Philadelphia's new lobbying law took effect on January 3,
2012. Incorporated into the Philadelphia Code as Chapter 20-1200,
the law's reach is not limited to professional lobbyists and
lobbying firms. In fact, the law's definition of lobbying
includes activities frequently engaged in by many nonprofit
Under the new law, lobbying generally occurs whenever a
communication is made in an effort to influence legislative or
administrative action. This includes when a person or organization
provides gifts, hospitality, transportation, or lodging to a City
official or employee to advance the cause of that person or
organization or a client of that person or organization. This also
includes direct communication with a City official, a City agency,
or certain City-related agencies in an effort to influence
legislative or administrative action. Importantly, under §
20-1201, lobbying encompasses indirect communication with the
"purpose or foreseeable effect" of encouraging others to
influence legislative or administrative action. Letter-writing
campaigns, mailings, telephone banks, print and electronic media
advertising, billboards, and educational campaigns on public issues
are specifically mentioned by the law as examples of indirect
communication that can constitute lobbying. Newsletters can also
constitute lobbying if they are not primarily designed for and
distributed to members of a bona fide association or charitable or
fraternal nonprofit corporation.
An individual who lobbies 20 hours or more in a calendar
quarter, or who receives $2,500 or more in a calendar quarter as
salary or compensation for lobbying, must register with the
City's Board of Ethics as a lobbyist. An organization or
company that spends $2,500 or more on lobbying in a calendar
quarter, whether in salary to employees, to outside professional
lobbyists, for office expenses, or otherwise, must register as a
principal. In addition, principals must file quarterly statements
regarding lobbying expenditures.
Those who do not comply with the law face penalties. Individuals
and organizations must register within 10 days of reaching the
applicable lobbying threshold. Failure to register results in a
fine of $250 per day, with a maximum fine of $2,000. The new
lobbying law also regulates the conduct of lobbyists, principals,
and lobbying firms. Certain conduct is prohibited, and certain
other conduct is required. For example, a lobbyist may not serve as
an officer on the political committee or political action committee
of a candidate seeking City elected office. In contrast, the law
requires that lobbyists and principals attend an initial training
session provided by the Board of Ethics within 120 days of
registering. Also, § 20-1205 requires "clearly and
conspicuously stat[ing] the name of the person who made or
financed" an expenditure for indirect communication. Failure
to abide by the new law carries a maximum fine of $2,000;
intentional violations can bar an individual from lobbying for up
to five years.
A number of exemptions from the law are available. Under §
20-1204, for example, testimony before City Council does not count
as lobbying. Lobbying of an agency covered by the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania's lobbying law is also exempt, as are certain
activities of attorneys in representing clients.
Since the law is relatively new, details of interpretation and
enforcement are still being clarified. The Board of Ethics has
issued regulations and will provide advisory opinions upon request.
Nonprofit organizations active in the City would be well advised to
familiarize themselves with current lobbying laws and regulations
and to keep themselves apprised of developments.
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