Thursday, March 5, 2009, 5:03 PM

Illinois Elections Chair Admits Problems In Rolling Out Pay-to-Play Law

In public testimony last week, the Chairman of the Illinois State Board of Elections acknowledged that his agency was ill-equipped to implement the state’s new "pay-to-play" law. "We had problems," Chairman Albert Porter admitted, saying the agency had "insufficient time" before the initial February 2 registration deadline to address extensive legal, practical and technical challenges. Porter also noted that the election board had requested $465,000 to implement the law, but the bill was passed without providing any funding.

Porter was testifying before an independent commission, established by the new Illinois Governor to recommend reforms in the wake of the Blagojevich and other scandals.

The Illinois "pay-to-play" law requires state contractors and bidders to file a registration statement that lists affiliates and key employees, along with their spouses and children - all of whom are barred from contributing to certain officeholders and candidates. Failure to comply with registration obligations can lead to fines and even perjury charges. A single violation of the contribution ban allows procurement officers to void contracts and disqualify bids.

The state board was unable to get electronic registration up-and-running for the initial filings, and they have yet to establish a website where registration information can be searched. Both are mandated by the new law. The Illinois legislature recently amended the pay-to-play law to give the elections board until August 1, 2009, to fulfill these obligations. The bill awaits the Governor’s signature.

CONNECTICUT ETHICS BOARD ADOPTS BROAD INTERPRETATION OF LOBBYING

The Connecticut Citizen's Ethics Advisory Board issued an opinion last week that broadly interprets the state’s lobbying law. In Connecticut, lobbying is defined as "communicating directly or soliciting others to communicate" with a public official or staff employee in the executive branch for the purpose of influencing administrative action. The Ethics Board concluded that drug companies are "lobbying" when they recommend to a state advisory panel which drugs should be placed on the state’s approved Medicaid drug formulary - even though the advisory panel members are not "public officials."

Why? Because the panel passes along recommendations to the State Social Services Department, which is comprised of public officials. The Ethics Board concluded that the drug companies’ communications are "soliciting others" (the advisory panel members) to influence the decision of the Social Services Department.

The state's lobbying law clearly encompasses grassroots lobbying efforts, such as urging citizens to contact their representatives on policy issues. It is far less certain that the lobbying law was intended to cover contacts with quasi-governmental officials such as the advisory panel members. But the Connecticut ruling reflects a national trend to regulate interactions well beyond traditional notions of lobbying.

PENNSYLVANIA INCHES ITS WAY TOWARD LOBBYIST REPORTING

Last week, Pennsylvania's Independent Regulatory Review Commission approved rules implementing the state’s 2007 law that requires lobbyists and their principals to disclose how much they spend to influence state policymakers. Debate over the proposed rules focused on the issue of when lobbyist registration and reporting is required - at the time the lobbyist is engaged to lobby or when a contact with an official is made. The compromise approved by the panel requires registration and reporting whenever a person is contractually engaged – in writing or verbally - to provide lobbying services.

The new rules will take effect within 14 days of adoption by the Commission, unless the Pennsylvania House or Senate disapproves them. In an interesting footnote, prior to the 2007 law’s passage, Pennsylvania was the only state without a law requiring lobbyists to disclose how much they spend on lobbying activities.

NORTON & KAHL TO LEAD AMERICAN LEAGUE OF LOBBYISTS BREAKFAST FORUM ON NEW FEC BUNDLING RULES

The Federal Election Commission recently adopted complicated rules which, for the first time, require the disclosure of political contributions "bundled" by lobbyists. Professional lobbyists need a firm understanding of what these new FEC rules mean for them.

  • What's a "bundled" contribution?
  • How are bundled contributions reported to the FEC?
  • How do these new rules affect PACs that lobbyists help administer?
  • How should lobbyists ensure that credit for bundled contributions is attributed to the right source?
  • How will the FEC treat events co-hosted by lobbyists?
  • What kinds of contribution records do lobbyists need to keep?

The American League of Lobbyists has invited Political GPS authors Larry Norton and Jim Kahl to explain these new FEC bundling rules at a breakfast forum where they will give a nuts-and-bolts understanding of what these new rules mean for you and your business.

Date: Thursday, March 12, 2009
Time: 8:15 a.m. - Registration & Breakfast,
8:30 a.m. - 10:00 a.m. - Speakers
Place: National Press Club (Lisagor Room), 529 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20045
Cost: $45/ALL Member; $70/Nonmember
Deadline for Registration: 5:00 p.m., Tuesday, March 10
Click here to register.

Special Note: Mention that you became aware of this event from Womble Carlyle's Political GPS and receive the ALL Members rate. For questions or comments, please contact Patti Jo Baber by phone at 703-960-3011.

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