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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Non-Lobbying Lobbying at the State Level

A number of posts have discussed "shadow lobbying" or "non-lobbying lobbying" -- issue advocacy activities that serve an interest group but technically do not count as lobbying and are thus not subject to the same disclosure requirements.  It happens at the state level, too. The Sacramento Bee reports on Devon Ford, an associate in the firm California Strategies, who wanted lawmakers to attend an event at the Auto Club Speedway.
The excursion was billed as an educational opportunity for legislators and their staff to learn about what he called “the excitement of IndyCar racing,” and included a tour of the garage, face time with Speedway’s president and dinner in the private skybox during the race.

But because the firm was inviting government officials, Ford issued a warning in an email to colleagues.

“Our legal counsel reminds us that registered state lobbyists are prohibited from ‘arranging’ for the giving of a gift to a public official,” Ford wrote in a September 2012 email obtained by The Sacramento Bee.

“If you are a registered state lobbyist and would like to recommend a specific public official receive an invitation from California Strategies to attend this event, please make your recommendation to me as soon as possible.”

In other words: The firm’s lobbyists, who operate under strict disclosure rules and are prohibited from giving politicians gifts worth more than $10, couldn’t legally invite government officials to the race. But they could make sure key politicians were invited by having their non-lobbyist colleagues make the invitation
Today, California Strategies comprises two sister companies that share an office, a website and many of the same staff.

One company is registered to lobby, and files quarterly reports to the secretary of state detailing its clients and income. The public affairs branch, on the other hand, largely works out of the public eye. It’s made up of well-connected former government officials who offer strategic consulting that’s supposed to be more general than lobbying.