California’s political watchdog approved a regulatory change Thursday aimed at encouraging shadow lobbyists to disclose their efforts to influence legislation.
Lobbyists are required to file quarterly reports with the state that outline their attempts to sway officials. But the Fair Political Practices Commission is concerned that consultants are lobbying officials without registering with the state, which keeps the public in the dark about the forces behind laws and regulations.
“Shadow lobbying has been talked about for a number of years and we’ve got to start figuring out a way to address it,” said Jodi Remke, chair of the FPPC. “This is the first step. This is putting out the alert that you need to be more careful and you need to be monitoring. That’s the law.”
At its monthly meeting, the five-member commission voted to unanimously approve an amendment that assumes a payment is made for lobbying services if the person receiving the money has been paid by a business or outside group to communicate with legislators and other officials to influence legislation or administrative actions. The compensation must total at least $2,000 in a given month.
The FPPC hopes the change encourages consultants to keep track of their activities and gives the agency more information to work with in enforcement cases. A lack of records could be a red flag, Remke said.
Critics of the amendment say it creates an unconstitutional presumption that someone is guilty of acting as a lobbyist without proper disclosure, unless they can prove otherwise.
“In other words, the FPPC is effectively proposing a reverse-record keeping requirement – mandating that individuals who do not fall under the provisions of the Act maintain records to prove they do not meet the registration/reporting thresholds under the Act,” the California Political Attorneys Association wrote in a letter to the agency.
Remke and other FPPC commissioners said anyone communicating with public officials should be keeping records anyway to determine whether they trigger lobbying registration requirements. The presumption is eliminated if they provide evidence showing the payment in question was not made for lobbying activities, the agency said.
The amendment is among a series of actions the commission has taken recently to increase lobbying transparency. Remke said the agency intends to crack down on lobbying misconduct over the next year.