How does the lobbying law apply to nonprofit communications?

  • Question: I am employed by a non-profit organization to work as an advocate for developmentally disabled persons. I work directly with my clients helping them, among other things, to get housing and medical treatment, and helping them with daily life activities. My organization also encourages our clients to talk with legislators about their challenges or to advocate for more treatment resources. In some cases, I may accompany my clients to meetings and help them prepare what to say. Sometimes I may also say a few words but only to help my clients express their views when they unable to speak at the meeting or are having a difficult time expressing their views. The preparation for these meetings takes more than 25 hours in any six-month period. Do I have to register?
    • Answer: Yes, unless your communications are limited solely to helping your client express his or her views, in effect, like a translator or interpreter. If you were also to advocate on behalf of mentally ill persons generally or your organization you would have to register as a lobbyist, again assuming your advocacy and any related strategizing is more than “incidental”.
  • Question: I work for an advocacy group for the mentally ill. An employee in the Department of Mental Health (DMH) telephones and asks how one of the providers under contract to DMH is doing. The purpose of the call is to help DMH determine whether to renew that provider’s contract. Do I need to count that time as “lobbying” to determine whether I exceed the 25 hour trigger?
    • Answer: Yes, unless the DMH employee’s request and your response is in writing. By definition, executive lobbying includes “any act to communicate directly with a covered executive official to influence a decision concerning policy or procurement.” If the purpose of the call were to help determine whether to continue a specific procurement contract the time spent would have to be counted toward the 25 hour trigger. The law, however, provides for a specific exception if the information is provided “in writing in response to a written request for specific information by an officer or employee of the executive branch.” If you do not wish this time to count toward the 25-hour threshold, you should ask that the officer or employee submit a written request to you for this information and to reply in writing.