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General Lobbying Questions
What is the difference between a lobbyist employer and a lobbying firm?
A lobbying firm is an entity that generally includes more than one lobbyist who receives or is entitled to receive $500 or more in either monetary or in-kind compensation for lobbying in a calendar year. All lobbyists affiliated with a firm will report their compensation through the firm. The lobbying firm may have many clients (lobbyist employers clients) that are represented by all of the firms lobbyists. Occasionally, the firm will not assign all of their lobbyists to represent a lobbyist employer (client). A lobbyist employer is an entity, or client, that engages the services of a lobbyist or lobbyist firm and compensates the lobbyist or lobbyist firm for conducting lobbying activities on its behalf. Lobbyist employers are generally either clients of a lobbyist or lobbying firm, or have in house staff members who lobby on their behalf.
Is it lobbying when a lawyer contacts state agency attorneys or officials for a client?
If the purpose of the communication is confined to representing a client in a contested case, it is not lobbying. If the communications with state agency staff are intended to influence the substance of law(s) that may be passed, or the content of administrative rules or policies that may be adopted, or the manner in which policy may be carried out, then those efforts qualify as lobbying and expenditures must be reported.
Is it lobbying when a lawyer gives legal advice to a client about dealing with state agencies?
If the purpose of the consultation or research is in preparation for a lobbying effort as described above, then it would be considered a lobbying expenditure. However, if the client, after your advice is given, decides based upon the attorneys analysis not to follow through with lobbying efforts either directly or by urging others to do so, then the expenses would not be construed as lobbying and so there would be no reporting.
Are lobbying activities by state or local officials automatically exempt?
The statute provides a limited exemption if the state or local officials activities are solely related to his or her official duties as a public official. However, if the lobbying activities go beyond matters relating to the state or local officials duties, the person must register and report if the $500 threshold is reached. For example, an official who testifies on behalf of a private group to argue in favor of a bill would be required to register and report once the official reaches the $500 expenditures threshold. This includes lobbying on behalf of an association of local officials, for example, the VT League of Cities and Towns or the VT School Boards Association.
What if state or local government contracts with a lobbyist to lobby on its behalf?
The law was recently changed so that if any instrumentality, agency or governmental subdivision of the United States or State of Vermont (including municipalities) contracts with a lobbyist to conduct lobbying activities on its behalf, then both the entity and the lobbyist must register and report. For example, a town manager may testify on issues that may affect the municipality without triggering registration or reporting requirements. However, if a town contracts with a lobbying firm or a lobbyist to conduct lobbying activities on behalf of the town, then the town and the lobbyist(s) must both register and report.
Is an editor or publisher of a newspaper ever required to register and report?
The news media is exempt when engaged solely in the acquisition or dissemination of news on behalf of the news medium. This exemption does not apply to an editor or publisher who participates in lobbying activities, such as testifying on behalf of a bill or rule or on behalf of an association of news media; once the $500 threshold is reached in this situation, registration and reporting are required.
Is it lobbying when a lobbyist employer sponsors a concert for the general public with a ticket price of $15 and provides invitations and free tickets to legislators?
The concert itself is not a lobbying event, but the employer must separately report as a gift the cost of each ticket (of $15 or more) that is provided to a legislator or administrative official. The law was recently amended to explicitly include payment of expenses to or for any sporting, recreational or entertainment events by a lobbyist or lobbyist employer.
Can a Lobbyist work on a contingency fee basis?
No.
 
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Disclosure
Does a lobbyist employer or lobbying firm need to report advertising that is not connected with lobbying activities?
No. Only lobbying expenditures are required to be reported by lobbyist employers or lobbying firms. For example, if a hospital that is registered as a lobbyist employer runs a series of ads promoting a new brain trauma center, the hospital does not report these advertising expenses. However, if the hospital ran a series of ads urging the legislature to provide funding for a new facility, or urging citizens to contact legislators or administrative officials to change law or policy regarding the handling of certain heath facility expenses, this would be a reportable lobbying expenditure. Similarly, a lobbying firm that simply advertises its services does not have to report these ads as a lobbying expenditure.
Who reports expenses that are reimbursed?
Expenses are reported by whoever actually pays. For example, if a lobbying firm pays for its lobbyists travel expenses but is reimbursed for these expenses by the lobbyist employer, the employer is responsible for reporting the travel expenses as other lobbying expenditures. Similarly, if a lobbyist pays for a meal, but is reimbursed by the lobbyist employer, the lobbyist employer reports the expenditure. Lobbyists frequently report zero ($0.00) expenditures, because all of the expenditures are reimbursed by a client or lobbyist employer who is the reporter.
Are research expenditures made in connection with lobbying reportable?
Yes, except that research conducted to decide whether or not to lobby is not an expenditure. For example, if the object of the research is to provide your client an analysis of the judicial, administrative and legislative options for resolving a legal problem, the research costs would not be a reportable expense if the client or lobbyist employer decided after reviewing your advice that it would pursue a resolution in the courts rather than attempt to influence legislation or policy. However, if the client or lobbyist employer decides to ask you to go forward to influence legislation or administrative policy, then the sums expended on research after the clients decision would be reportable.
Do gifts need to be reported in the total of lobbying expenditures?
No. Gifts must be listed and reported separately including contributions to political campaigns. Please read our Guide to Vermont’s Campaign Finance Law for more detailed information on contribution limits, etc.
Is a lobbyist or lobbyist employer prohibited from contributing to a political party or PAC during the legislative session?
Contributions to political committees (PACs) that are not candidate committees are not regulated by the Lobbyist Disclosure Law; however, lobbyists are prohibited from making any contributions to a candidate’s political committee until after the adjournment sine die of the complete legislative biennial session ending in even numbered years. For example, Friends of Joe Smith for Representative would be considered a candidate’s political committee and donations from a lobbyist, lobbyist employer or lobbying firm to this group would be prohibited; however, a lobbyist, lobbyist employer or lobbying firm could contribute to Friends of Vermont Republicans because it is not affiliated with a specific candidate.
Does the law prohibit or regulate solicitations by political parties?
No, political parties are not covered by the lobbyist disclosure law.
Are political contributions to candidates for federal office required to be reported?
No. The lobbying law only covers state administrative officials (i.e., governor, lieutenant governor, etc.). Even if a current legislator is running for federal office, if the contribution is made to the legislator’s federal election campaign, it is not reportable under Vermont’s lobbying law. (For further information on contributions to federal candidates, check with the Federal Election Commission at http://www.fec.gov)
Must gifts be connected to lobbying activities in order to be reportable?
No. If a gift worth more than $15 is given by or on behalf of a lobbyist, lobbying firm, or employer to a legislator or administrative official, it must be separately reported. The exceptions in the definition of a gift are: anything given between family members; printed educational materials such as books, reports, pamphlets, or periodicals; a gift which is not used and which, within 30 days after receipt, is returned to the donor, or for which the donor is reimbursed for its fair market value; and a devise or inheritance.
If a lobbyist employer wants to invite a legislator or administrative official to an awards ceremony, do the travel costs get reported? What if the organization is honoring the legislator or administrative official?
Any speaking fee or honorarium that is valued at greater than $15 bestowed on a legislator or administrative official is reported as a gift.
If a lobbyist employer hires an economist to prepare a document that provides up-to-date information on the manufacturing sector, is the cost reportable?
If the document is prepared to be used by lobbyists for the purposes of obtaining legislative or administrative action, then the expense of the research, printing and publication of the document is considered a lobbying expense.What if a lobbyist employer distributes a more general publication designed to educate the public about the mission and activities of an employer or an industry to legislators or administrative officials? If the document that is distributed to legislators or administrative officials falls under the statutory exception for printed education materials such as books, reports, pamphlets, or periodicals then the cost of the document is not required to be reported as a gift.
Is it a lobbying expenditure for a lobbyist, lobbying firm or employer to buy a ticket to attend a political fundraising event sponsored by a political party?
Lobbyists are entitled to their personal political associations and the purchase of a ticket to a fundraiser would not automatically be considered an attempt to obtain goodwill. Whether or not the expenditure needs to be reported depends on whether the lobbyist uses the event as an opportunity to lobby, and on the reason for purchasing the ticket. However, if you determine that your purchase of the ticket is a lobbying expenditure, it would be report under Other Lobbying Expenditures.