Q: What purpose do lobbyists serve in our government?
A: Lobbying is a basic right that is protected by both the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 3 of the Ohio Constitution. Both provisions guarantee citizens the right to instruct their representatives and to petition government for the redress of grievances. A lobbyist is one who, in general, advocates on behalf of others.
Q: Who do lobbyists represent?
A: Most lobbyists represent organizations or professional associations. For example, the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, the Ohio State Association of Nurse Anesthetists and the Ohio State Bar Association all have lobbyists. These lobbyists help provide legislators with information and knowledge concerning proposed legislation that concerns a particular group. For example, if the General Assembly is working on a particular criminal justice bill, the lobbyist for the Ohio Chiefs of Police Association may be able to provide expertise on how the proposal is likely to impact police and the public. Even lobbyists have an association—the Ohio Lobbying Association, which lobbies on lobbying issues.
Q: Must lobbyists be registered? Do they have to account for their activities?
A: In Ohio, all lobbyists must register with the Legislative Inspector General. In addition, lobbyists must disclose their employers and file reports three times per year listing the pieces of legislation they have worked on during the reporting period. Lobbyists also must report all money spent on gifts, lodging, travel and meals.
Q: Is there more than one type of lobbyist?
A: Yes. In general, all lobbyists do the same thing, which is to advocate on behalf of another person or organization. However, lobbyists are classified under Ohio law based upon whom they lobby and for what purpose.
* A lobbyist must register as a legislative lobbyist if he or she actively advocates, promotes or opposes passage, modification or defeat, or executive approval or veto of any legislation by communicating with members of the Ohio General Assembly, members of the Controlling Board, the governor, a director of any department or a staff member or employee of any public office.
* Someone who lobbies executive officials or their employees regarding the expenditure of public funds or in an attempt to promote, oppose or otherwise influence a decision with respect to the award of a contract, grant, lease or other financial arrangement, registers as an executive lobbyist.
* Someone who lobbies officials, board members or employees of any of Ohio’s five retirement systems whose position involves the investment of retirement system funds, registers as a retirement system lobbyist.
* A lobbyist who does more than one type of lobbying must register for each type. In addition, some Ohio cities require city hall lobbyists to register with the city.
Q: Must legislative lobbyists become experts on every legislative proposal that might affect the organizations they represent?
A: Legislative lobbyists generally have enough expertise to judge when a legislative proposal might affect an organization they represent. In addition, an organization will have a legislative committee that reviews all legislative proposals that may impact the members of the association. Most lobbyists review bills as they are introduced and meet periodically with the organization’s legislative committee to form a position on the bill. Once a position is established, the lobbyist makes the organization’s position known to legislators. The lobbyist or someone from the organization will testify before a legislative committee on the bill to reflect the organization’s position.
Q: What does a lobbyist have to do with a political action committee?
A: An association that has one or more lobbyists also may have a political action committee (PAC). A PAC within an organization tries to raise money from its members to contribute to the campaigns of particular legislators. An association may, for example, buy a ticket for a legislator’s fund-raising luncheon, and that association’s lobbyist is likely to attend the luncheon on the association’s behalf. The PACs are registered and must file periodic reports detailing monies raised and spent.
Q: Must a lobbyist be an attorney?
A: No. While many lobbyists are attorneys, there is no such requirement.
Law You Can Use is a consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). This article was prepared by attorney John Gilchrist, who is a legislative lobbyist.