Summary: Senate Bill 1415 provides a comprehensive approach to clarifying the laws regarding lobbyists, and adds critical new tools to be used by the Secretary of State’s office in the oversight of lobbyists and their activities.
Why This Matters: Recent ethical violations and alleged improprieties by individuals and lobbyists here in the Commonwealth as well as in other states have prompted many to re-examine the laws that govern lobbyists in Massachusetts.
Lobbying in and of itself isn’t a problem. The public has a right to advocate to the government on issues they care about – and lobbyists can serve a vital role in the legislative process by providing information, research, and feedback from affected constituents. But without clear regulations, lobbying can also lead to serious problems, including questions about conflicts of interests and undue influence on legislation derived from campaign donations.
Many of our current laws around lobbying – including definitions as well as registration, disclosure and reporting requirements – are confusing and open to widely varying interpretation. That’s why we need to update the laws, so that it is clear to everyone – legislators, lobbyists, and the general public – what is legal, and what is not.
What this Bill Would Do: This bill provides greater clarity to our lobbying laws and improves the Secretary of State’s enforcement capabilities. Critical provisions include:
- The bill clarifies the definition of a lobbyist to remove potential loopholes, and removing references that limit the definition to activities which are less than fifty hours or five thousand dollars during a reporting period.
- The bill revises certain registration requirements, including a requirement that lobbyists register within 3 days of employment, (rather than 10) and requiring prompt notification to the Secretary upon resignation from such a position.
- The bill includes new penalties, including fees of $250 and $500 for late filing of registrations. A lobbyist who fails to file a timely disclosure statement would be subject to immediate administrative revocation of his license to lobby for a period not to exceed three years.
- The bill clarifies and improves disclosure requirements for lobbyists. The bill requires quarterly disclosure statements containing an itemized statement of expenditures.
- The bill increases the ability of the Secretary to revoke a lobbying license for failure to disclose expenditures in a timely manner.
- The bill grants additional enforcement authority, including the right of subpoena. The bill establishes a procedure to consider any sworn complaints against a lobbyist, and provides that the Secretary may issue a temporary cease and desist order if a preliminary inquiry indicates a reasonable cause for belief that the law has been violated.