Law of the West
This last week I had occasion to travel to the City along the Potomac. The Nation’s River was in its spring-time splendor as the Cherry Blossoms were in full bloom and the magnificent monuments of the Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln memorials were reflected in its waters. I enjoy visiting the River; but as far as the city goes … I generally can’t wait to get back to the West.
I was in Washington to attend a seminar on federal lobbying. Of course, the chief topic was the effects of the recent scandals including the Jack Abramoff affair ” often referenced as “the A Cloud” that has descended upon the Capitol by some of the speakers. As I listened to the war stories of influence peddling within the Beltway, I was curious about how lobbying and lobbyists are governed and controlled at the state level. After all, in Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska the state legislatures are wrapping up and you have to ask yourself what impact lobbying has in Cheyenne, Denver, or Lincoln.
It turns out that each state has a set of governmental ethic laws and that those laws regulate the actions of lobbyists. Basically, a lobbyist is anyone that on behalf of anyone else’s interest engages in activities meant to influence the decisions of the legislative or executive branches of government. You are not a lobbyist when you contact a legislature to discuss your view about legislation or policy as a constituent. But, when you are advancing your civic organization, employer, or some other position, then you may be a lobbyist.
There is also a difference between a volunteer lobbyist and a paid or professional lobbyist. A volunteer lobbyist is someone that contacts decision makers on behalf of others without any expectation of compensation. When you go to see your state senator or representative to advance the cause of your civic organization, you are most likely a volunteer lobbyist. Most of the ethics rules don’t apply to volunteer lobbyists, though in some cases, the reimbursement of expenses can create some reporting requirements.
For example, in Wyoming, if your expense reimbursements exceed $500, you might be a lobbyist subject to registration and reporting. Now, when you think about it, $500 is not a lot of money for expenses with hotels at $100 a night, gas at $2.50 a gallon, and the cost of eating out being what it is.
The laws concerning who is a lobbyist at the state level can be complex and involved. But there is help. Each of our states has great information on line to help you determine if you are a lobbyist or not. The Web sites are:
While the label “Lobbyist” is taking quite hit in the press today, it really is an important function in our government. Without lobbyists, whether paid or volunteer, our legislators would lose touch with the feelings of large segments of their constituents. These folks serve as a conduit to our elected representatives and it is likely that everyone of us supports a lobbyist in some manner. Your membership in any number of private organizations likely supports the efforts of lobbyists on behalf of you and your fellow members. These folks get your views known at the state capitol.
The information provided in this column is based upon general principles of law and should not be relied upon in any manner. It is not the intent of this column, its author, publisher or the Fence Post to provide legal advice to any person. You should address specific legal questions to your family lawyer. In Wyoming, the State Bar can refer you to competent lawyers in your community by calling (307) 634-7823. In Colorado, call the Metropolitan Lawyer Referral Service at (303) 831-8000. Readers in Nebraska can receive referrals from the State Bar Association by calling 1-800-742-3005.