Government Relations

What Business Persons Need To Know About the New NH Lobbying Law

July 2006

By Michael R. Callahan*

On June 2nd, a major revision of the state's lobbying law took effect, and while policy makers, lobbyists, lawyers and others in Concord will be discussing for months how to implement it and what its language means, businesses need to know now how it affects them.

The first thing to know is that the new law's definition of "lobbyist" is significantly broader than the previous one. The prior law only required a person to register as a lobbyist if he or she was "employed for a consideration by any other person" to promote or oppose legislation before the general court (the legislature). Now, persons must register as lobbyists if they promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, "any action by the governor, governor and council, or any state agency... where such action concerns legislation or contracts pending or proposed before the general court, any pending or proposed administrative rule, or the procurement of goods or services that are being or may be purchased by the state."

This means that meeting with a state agency staff person to discuss a proposed administrative rule is now considered "lobbying." If you as a business person routinely send employees to meet with state regulators to discuss such issues, you need to examine these activities in light of the new law's definition and determine whether you or your staff should register. This is important because lobbying without registration and reporting makes one subject to a misdemeanor if a natural person and a felony if any other.

Employers should also consider the new law's relevance to them if they instruct employees to contact their representatives about a particular piece of legislation. It is a common practice for employees of banks, utilities, hotels and restaurants, hospitals and other businesses to call or write their legislators about proposed legislation that will affect their livelihood. It is much more riveting to hear from 20 constituents who are employees of a business than hearing from one executive or hired lobbyist, as any House or Senate member will tell you. But even this practice is arguably "lobbying" under the new law; while most will contend that the statute cannot reach that far, caution is in order.

The next thing to be aware of is what is required if one's activities do fall under the newly expanded definition of lobbying:

  • Registering with the Secretary of State and paying $50 per year per client one is representing.
  • Disclosing other members or employees of one's firm, partnership or corporation who are also registered as lobbyists.
  • Wearing a hunter orange badge at least 1 ½ inches high and 2 ½ inches long when lobbying not just in the statehouse or legislative office building, but now before the governor, governor and council, and state agencies as well.
  • Reporting monthly — rather than three times yearly — and under oath, on fees and expenditures. Fees received from a lobbying client must now cover services including "public advocacy, government relations, or public relations services including research, monitoring legislation, and related legal work."
  • Reporting on honoraria or expense reimbursements and political contributions made on behalf of one's client, employer or family member. This means that a lobbyist's spouse, children and parents are also subject to the financial reporting requirements if they are living in the same house with him or her; and all these reports are subject to public inspection.

Finally, businesses need to know about the new lobbying law's prohibitions — what you can't do — and all the exceptions to the rule. Lobbyists are prohibited from giving elected officials, constitutional officers or state employees:

  • Money in any amount, unless the "donor's act of giving is purely private and personal in nature..."
  • Tangible or intangible things or services, unless they are valued at under $10.
  • Tickets to a charitable, ceremonial or political event, unless it's an "official" event, a celebratory event or one where the "planned" attendance is greater than 50 people.
  • Tickets to a charitable, ceremonial or political event, unless it's advertised in the House or Senate calendar and is open to all members.
  • Meals or beverages, unless they are "consumed in the course of official business."

This litany of do's and don'ts creates a whole new set of ambiguities which will most certainly be debated in Concord as implementation of the law goes forward. While it is impossible to argue that efforts to assure greater transparency and integrity in government are misplaced, caution must be the order of the day until all concerned have experienced the use and interpretation of this new law. Businesses should therefore carefully consider the provisions of the new statute as they go forward in their interactions with state government.

* Michael R. Callahan is admitted in New Hampshire.

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