JCOPE Issues Ruling That NY PR Firms Discussing Public Affairs With Contacts Must Register as Lobbyists
In a regulatory opinion issued today, the NYS Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) stated that any “public relations consultant who contacts a media outlet in an attempt to get it to advance the client’s message in an editorial” must be registered as a lobbyist, and must file bi-monthly reports regarding their interactions with the press. The ethics board added that “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.”
JCOPE qualified the ruling by adding that it is “intended to generate transparency” and 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.”
In an attempt to clarify the ruling, JCOPE Chairman Daniel J. Horwitz stated that “”Nobody here is suggesting that a garden-variety telephone conversation between a reporter or editorial board and a consultant is necessarily considered to be lobbying.”
In response to Horwitz’s cryptic statement, NY political and corporate communications firm The November Team has announced a contest, open to all New Yorkers, with substantial rewards to anyone who can decipher the meaning of a “garden-variety” telephone conversation. The winner of the contest will receive a free round trip Megabus ride to Philadelphia, two free tickets to view the First Amendment at the National Constitution Center Hall, and lunch for two at Chickie’s and Pete’s, voted “the best sports bar in America.”
November Team members said that the contest was created after their own attempts to interpret Horwitz’s statement met a roadblock.
“I know what a garden variety tomato is,” said November Team partner William F.B. O’Reilly, “but I can’t for the life of me tell you what a garden variety conversation is between an editorial board and a source. We debated and debated this internally, and finally decided we were just going to have to throw the question out to the public for help.”
According to First Amendment expert Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center at the Newseum in Washington D.C., told Law Blog, the new lobbying regulation is “unwise, unworkable and arguably unconstitutional,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
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