Common Cause highlights loophole in lobbyist registration by exploiting it

Common Cause of Georgia is a member of the Alliance for Ethics Reform and their Executive Director William Perry spends a good bit of time at the Capitol lobbying for, among other things, greater restrictions on lobbyists. But he is not currently registered as a lobbyist, his registration having expired on December 31, 2011.

I emailed him to ask about this seeming contradiction, thinking that it might be a glitch in the State Ethics Campaign Finance Commission website or if there was an exemption that applied. He responded:

No, there is no glitch. I am not currently registered.

As you may know, the current law, which was changed last year, gives a 10% exception. If less than 10% of your working hours for a month are used for lobbying purposes and you do not spend more than $1,000 in a given year on gifts to legislators, you are not considered a lobbyist. If in fact you exceed the 10% for a given month, you have to register and file disclosure reports retroactively.

I decided to experiment with my hours, as Common Cause Georgia has a contract lobbyist, and a large majority of my time is not spent on lobbying activities. I have tracked my time for the month of January and I came close, but did exceed the 10% threshold. Therefore, I will register with the first five days of this month and retroactively file my disclosure reports, which will contain no expenditures.

Interestingly enough, it is my time this month at Atlanta City Hall working on the airport concession and pay-to-play issues that put me over the 10%, not state legislative activities.

I’d be glad to talk with you about it if you like, I can be reached at [redacted], and you can check the code sections that apply – 21-5-70 for the 10% “test” and 21-5-71 for the “lookback period”.

Sure enough, §21-5-70(5), which defines “lobbyist” applies only to people who spend more than ten percent of their working hours engaged in lobbying.

The provisions of subparagraphs (A), (C), (D), (F), (G), (H), and (I) of this paragraph shall apply only where the person in question spends more than 10 percent of his or her working hours engaged in the activities described in one or more of those subparagraphs. In the case of a person who is employed by a single employer, the 10 percent test shall be applied to all time worked for that employer. In the case of a person who is employed by more than one employer or retained by more than one client, the 10 percent test shall be applied separately with respect to time spent working for each employer and each client. A person who spends less than 10 percent of his or her time working for an employer or client engaged in such activities shall not be required to register as or be subject to regulation as a lobbyist for that employer or client. In applying the 10 percent test, time spent in planning, researching, or preparing for activities described in subparagraphs (A), (C), (D), (F), (G), (H), and (I) of this paragraph shall be counted as time engaged in such activities. When registration is required, the time of registration shall be as provided in Code Section 21-5-71. [Emphasis added.]

Perry is also correct about the situation in which a person who initially does not qualify as a lobbyist under the Act does in fact spend more than 10 percent of their time in a month engaged in lobbying:

 If at the end of any month the 10 percent test has been met during that month, the person shall register as a lobbyist within five days after the last day of that month and shall in his or her initial disclosure report include all prior lobbying expenditures in that calendar year. §21-5-71(a)(3).

In a follow-up email, Perry sounds as though he has engaged in this course of action as a means of highlighting this loophole.

I am disappointed I exceeded the 10% because I do think a lot of people would have a problem with me not being registered, and rightly so, I do lobby, and therefore should be required to register.  The 10% rule is a pretty big loophole!

In a similar vein, several people have suggested that the leaders of the Tea Party Patriots should be required to register. If this means that the law should change to bring them under it, that’s an issue for the legislature. But when I asked Debbie Dooley once whether she is paid to lobby on behalf of TPP, she told me she is not. As with Perry’s assertion about his time spent lobbying, I accept this at face value and note that someone who is not paid and doesn’t otherwise bring themselves under the definition of lobbyist is not required to register.


  1. CobbGOPer says:

    Lobbyists: Second against the wall when the revolution comes. Right after the lawyers.

    I kid. Though I would very much like to put the vast majority of lobbyists out of business (via reform and simplification of the tax code).

    • benevolus says:

      There is nothing wrong with lobbyists in principle. They are just representatives of like-minded groups of individuals. But, they should not be able to give any politician ANYTHING. I just don’t see any way to justify that.

  2. Harry says:

    “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women and then vote against them, you have no business being up here.” – Jesse M. Unruh

  3. debbie0040 says:

    Julianne Thompson and I have never been paid one dime to work on behalf of the tea party movement and that includes lobbying. We are volunteers and always have been.

  4. bowersville says:

    Jessie Unruh was speaker of the house in California at one time. Yes he was a Democrat. But leave off the screwing of their women part, I like his attitude. If an elected Representative or Senator can’t vote the interests of his/her district over the food and booze of lobbyist he/she doesn’t need to be in Atlanta.

    When a Senator or Representative fails to represent the interests of his/her district the voters will remove them. I have a problem when volunteers that are not paid, or paid lobbyist have more influence than voters back home have. It’s almost like who’s the most Saintly, the paid lobbyist or the non paid volunteers. Yes different groups need to get their ear but if they get a tin ear to voters at home, we’ll get rid of them. To me timely disclosure on topics discussed/money spent is more important than an arbitrary cap.

    • benevolus says:

      I think lobbyists are supposed to be- and can be- the voice of the voters back home. A representative can’t possibly listen to thousands of individual voices on all the myriad and complicated issues that come up, and frankly, sometimes the people back home are wrong.
      Lobbyists, in theory, can provide expert advise and/or advocacy for the people back home, Common Cause being a good example of that. In a perfect world, you would have lobbyists representing all sides of an issue and the rep making a well informed decision because of it. In reality of course, it is not a level playing field. The lobbyists trying to represent “the people” get overwhelmed by the money allowed to be expended by those with the resources to dominate the conversation.
      No free trips.
      No tickets.
      No food.
      No gifts.
      Then the peoples representatives have a fighting chance against the special interests whose goals conflict with building a healthy community.

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