In a push for more transparency, New York State ethics officials have ruled that certain PR activities are classified as lobbying and practitioners would be subject to file periodic reports with authorities.
The original proposal by the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics would have required public relations agencies to file lobbying disclosure forms and report all grassroots communications, including with media that could influence public officials.
“A public relations consultant who contacts a media outlet in an attempt to get it to advance the client’s message in an editorial would also be delivering a message. That said, this is in no way intended to restrict a reporter’s ability to gather information or to seek comment from representatives of advocacy groups as part of reporting the news. Rather, this is intended to generate transparency in the activities of paid media consultants who are hired to proactively advance their client’s interests through the media. Any attempt by a consultant to induce a third-party whether the public or the press to deliver the client’s lobbying message to a public official would constitute lobbying under these rules.”
– New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics
Some examples that would fall under this jurisdiction, include:
- A PR consultant speaking to a group to advance a client’s lobbying message (example: speaking to industry trade group about an upcoming bill that could impact their business)
- A PR consultant who contacts a media outlets to advance the client’s message in an editorial (example: pitching a government beat reporter regarding a client’s position on upcoming legislation)
- A social media campaign that includes a public call to action to contact the governor about a relevant issue
The commission’s opinions reverberated throughout the media, marketing and public relations industries with many calling it a blatant attack on our first amendment rights. While the commission’s ultimate vote limited the lobbying restrictions to editorial boards, leading news organizations still had their claws out over the implications of how they’ll source news in the future.
While we can hope that California won’t adopt overly restrictive reporting requirements like this any time soon, we’d like to hear how your day-to-day activities would change if you were required to register as a lobbyist on behalf of your clients.