Last week, New York’s City Council passed an ordinance amending its lobbying laws. While these reforms largely have gone unnoticed, a close look at the changes, some of which go into effect on January 1, reveals some potentially far-reaching implications.

First, the definition of “lobbying” has been expanded to include attempts to influence “any determination made by an elected city official or an officer of employee of the city to support or oppose any state or federal legislation, rule or regulation.” It is unusual, if not unprecedented, for a city lobbying ordinance to cover attempts to get a city official to weigh in on state or federal policy. 

Second, while the enforcement of lobbying laws in most jurisdictions is aimed at registered lobbyists and their employers, Section 6 of the new law requires the City Clerk to develop a system for proactively identifying individuals who are required to register as lobbyists in NYC but have not done so. The New York City ordinance directs the City Clerk to search for noncompliance by scouring public records, including:

  • State lobbying filings,
  • Notices of appearances compiled by city agencies, and
  • The city’s “doing business database,” which lists individuals and entities doing business with the NYC under the city’s pay-to-play campaign finance rules.

As a related matter, the new law creates an amnesty program for lobbyists or those that employ lobbyists (called “clients”) who were required to register as NYC lobbyists/clients, but never have. Under this program, participating individuals and entities will not be fined or penalized for the failure to register for the period December 10, 2006 to the date the individual/entity files a notice with the City Clerk of his intention to participate.

Finally, the law makes some procedural changes. For example, the reporting periods covered by the periodic reports filed by lobbyists will change. Instead of filing four periodic reports each year, lobbyists will be required to file six periodic reports each year. Also, as of January 1, 2014, the dollar threshold for determining whether registration with the city is required has been increased from $2,000 to $5,000 per calendar year. Therefore, starting in the new year, if a lobbyist earns or incurs $5,000 or more in a calendar year for purposes of lobbying, he will be required to register and report. Keep in mind that starting on May 8, 2014, the definition of lobbying will include attempts to influence NYC officials with respect to state or federal policy (including grassroots lobbying).

The majority of the law’s provisions take effect May 8, 2014. There are, however, some exceptions. Notably, the requirement that the City Clerk develop a system to identify unregistered NYC lobbyists will go into effect when the City Clerk and Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications determine they are capable of implementing the program (or two years after enactment, whichever is earlier). Also, as described above, the new dollar thresholds for registration go into effect on January 1, 2014.