On November 28, 2018 the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled 2-1, that unpaid citizen activists can be forced to comply with the same registration reporting and disclosure requirements as professional lobbyists.
This is an unprecedented ruling, but one that is not without merit. The National Institute For Lobbying & Ethics (NILE) supports the First Amendment and urges every American to petition their government, but this case (Ronald John Calzone v. Donald Summers No. 17-2654) is not about citizen “lobbying”, but rather about “shadow Lobbying”, which NILE strongly opposes.
NILE does not support requiring citizens who petition their government to register as professional lobbyists. This case is different. This case is not about a citizen simply petitioning their government (or lobbying) for or against a specific issue. This is a case where Mr. Calzone is a member of the Board of Directors of a Missouri non-profit, Missouri First, which on its very own website talks about lobbying on behalf of its members. Mr. Calzone admits to regularly meeting with legislators, their staff and other legislative groups in Missouri on behalf of Missouri First. This is not citizen lobbying. This is professional lobbying and where NILE does agree with the court and its ruling.
However, this case is not as black and white as it may seem. The Eight Circuit ruling will now require those who are true citizen “lobbyists” to register as professional lobbyists. This will have a chilling effect on the ability of citizens to petition their government. This could require those who “lobby” their State Representatives over a local issue, who are not paid, to register as professional lobbyists. This could require those who participate in their professional association national fly-in or trips to the State Capitol to register as professional lobbyists. This is not what NILE wants and where we believe the Court’s decision, while correct in this case, could have a chilling impact on every citizens right to petition their government.
NILE has been talking about the facts of this type of case since 2016. “Shadow Lobbying” is not a new practice, but it is a growing one and why NILE has been concerned. People like Mr. Calzone practice the same “lobbying” techniques and use the same methods as professional registered lobbyists, but do not consider themselves lobbyists. This is nothing more than attempt by a growing number of professionals to create loopholes allowing theme to fly under the radar, which is not the transparent system the American people want and deserve.
In 2016 NILE assembled a Lobbying Task Force to review the current Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) with the purpose of trying to identifying areas, like Shadow Lobbying, of the LDA that are out of date and where changes need to be made in order to keep pace with the new lobbying practices being utilized today.
In 2017 NILE issued its final recommendations for reforms to the LDA, which included solutions to the facts involved in this case. While NILE does not want to see “regular” citizens have to register as professional lobbyists for their participating in their professional associations annual lobby day in Washington or in their State Capitol. NILE doesn’t want to see those who are being asked to serve as witnesses at legislative or regulatory hearings be required to register as professional lobbyists. This is the very type of “lobbying” our Founding Father’s had in mind when they wrote “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” This case was not about a citizen “lobbying” or petitioning their government. The facts presented in this case paint a picture of a professional lobbyist trying to hide his activities from the American people. Mr. Calzone was using the practice of “Shadow Lobbying” to hide his activities from the public and public officials in Missouri. Mr. Calzone conducted himself like professionally registered lobbyists do today and should be required to live by the same rules and standards.
NILE urges Congress and State Legislatures all across the country to implement our lobbying reform recommendations. They close current loopholes, which allow “Shadow Lobbying” to exist today. Our recommendations reform the LDA to meet today’s lobbying activities and a model every state in the country can use to reform their own state laws.
NILE urges the courts to be careful in their rulings going forward on this issue, so that they don’t create unintended consequences that could be created by this case. NILE urges every State Legislature, U.S. Congress and White House to support adoption of NILE’s lobbying reform solutions. These recommendations are the foundation of good government and continue to provide a transparent system demanded by the American people.
See more here: 2018-11-28_Calzone-v-MEC-Eighth-Circuit-opinion-