The ‘State’ Of Lobbying

WITH ALL OF THE ATTENTION lobbyists in Washington, DC receive, lobbying on the state level is often overlooked. Lobbyists who focus their attention on the state level must comply with different regulations than federal lobbyists, which are created on a state-by-state basis. Despite very little change to the regulatory framework for Federal lobbyists, states have taken their own initiative in developing new legislation to regulate lobbying.

On November 4th, 2014, voters in Arkansas approved a constitutional amendment, HJR 1009, which affects the lobbying arena in the state in several ways, including prohibiting lobbyists from “giving gifts to lawmakers under a new “no cup of coffee rule”—so named because there is no allowance for gifts of nominal value, so even a cup of coffee would be a prohibited gift.  The amendment prohibits all gifts from lobbyists and lobbyist employers to the Governor, other statewide elected officials, and members of the General Assembly.” Moreover, as part of the new regulations in Arkansas, “Corporations and labor unions may not make candidate contributions (but may still give to state-registered PACs).”

Similarly, on January 1, 2015 new provisions came into effect in Maryland which focus on the political contributions of government contractors. However, the law also brings changes to the contribution limit for both individuals and business entities.  According to Venable, “an individual or an entity formed for a genuine business or organizational purpose may contribute up to $6,000 per four-year cycle to any one candidate for state or local office, or any one state PAC. The current election cycle began on January 1, 2015, and runs through December 31, 2018. The prior limit was $4,000. There are no longer aggregate contribution limits as a result of a Supreme Court decision in 2014.” Importantly, for the first time, under the new laws the “State Board of Elections is empowered to issue civil penalty citations, on a strict liability basis, for a variety of violations, including failure to maintain a proper bank account and failure to maintain accurate books and records.”

With the regulatory environment constantly shifting in many states, lobbyists who focus on the state level face a constant battle to make sure they remain compliant. However, that battle just might pay off as companies such as Uber turn to state-level lobbying efforts to reach their corporate goals. In Virginia, Uber mounted a successful lobbying campaign after the state attempted to make the company cease all of its operations in the commonwealth in June. According to The Washington Post, “Uber’s approach is brash and, so far, highly effective: It launches in local markets regardless of existing laws or regulations. It aims to build a large customer base as quickly as possible. When challenged, Uber rallies its users to pressure government officials, while unleashing its well-connected lobbyists to influence lawmakers.”

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