By Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) in New York is currently working to redefine what it means to lobby. This new advisory opinion could classify Public Relations professionals working in the political arena as lobbyists.
What the Bill Covers.
The bill requires anyone paid to help sway public policy for clients to share certain information. This information includes fees paid by clients, names of the clients, the bill in question, and whether they intend to help pass or defeat the bill. JCOPE’s proposal would also cover people hired to help candidates win elections. As a result, a larger number of PR professionals would need to register with JCOPE.
Recently, the number of pros lobbying on behalf of interest groups and working on political campaigns grew exponentially. Yet, many of these people do not register with JCOPE or abide by its regulations. This is due in part to loopholes in current regulations. These do not technically label these professionals as lobbyists, despite the nature of the work they do. JCOPE hopes to close this gap while increasing transparency in both politics and public relations.
PR Pros in Disagreement.
It comes as no surprise that many consultants and PR specialists in the field strike out against the bill on several levels. The most cited calls attention to Americans’ First Amendment rights. This comes from the possibility that even conversations had off the record with journalists, and reporters might need to be documented, and shared with the government.
The President of Epoch 5 Public Relations, Katherine Heaviside, stated, “This is overreaching and a direct interference with my First Amendment rights… And these actions will interfere with the operation of yet another New York State business.” She pointed out that when registered as a lobbyist, professionals must operate under greater restrictions limiting fundraising abilities and spike operating costs.
Other opposing professionals claim the bill simply cannot work in the real world. In a letter representing four PR firms, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP claimed the bill was “both impractical and constitutionally infirm.” The letter points out their definition of lobbying is too general. As a result, it would sweep even graphic designers and marketers into the mix.
No one knows for sure what changes JCOPE may make to the final bill. But whatever the final decision, the process leading up to it should prove even more interesting. The government has challenged PR firms who tackle the hard task of pushing or defeating bills… with a bill.
How the different PR firms work to support or defeat JCOPE’s bill should create quite the show for onlookers. Providing a great challenge for government officials. So, only time will tell just what JCOPE may put in place, after the lobbyist tug-of- war begins gaining greater favor – and votes.