A registered lobbyist for an employee organization (the Requestor) has requested the Commission to interpret the application of the lobbying provisions of the Public Ethics Law (Article 40A, Title 5, Annotated Code of Maryland, the Ethics Law) to certain activities planned by it in collaboration with several other entities.

The Requestor indicated that several associations (the American Federation of Teachers, the Fraternal Order of Police, Maryland State Lodge, Inc. , the Maryland State and D.C. Professional Firefighters, the Maryland Nurses Association, and the Maryland State Teachers Association) have formed a coalition (the Coalition) to lobby on behalf of a bill concerning collective bargaining. Each of the entities has contributed to a fund to be used to sponsor a series of receptions for legislative officials designed to influence them on the collective bargaining legislation. The principle function of the Coalition is to collect contributions from the member entities (the larger the entity, the larger the dues payment) and use the dues to defray the expenses of legislative receptions that will be sponsored by member associations.

Each reception is to be devoted to the legislative interests of the sponsoring member association. The cost of each is to be paid in full by the dues paid to the Coalition, even though the dues paid by a smaller entity into the Coalition's fund may be less than the cost of the reception. Thus, dues paid by the larger member entities will subsidize receptions sponsored by the smaller members. Some of the member entities had lobbyists registered to lobby on their behalf during the relevant reporting period for the legislative session for which these activities were planned; others did not have any registered lobbyists.

The first issue raised here is whether the Coalition must itself register under the lobbying provisions of the Ethics Law. Section 5-103(a) of the Law requires registration and reporting by any person who meets the definition of a lobbyist as set forth in §1-201(s) of the Law. This provision defines a lobbyist to include

any person who, ...in the presence of any official or employee in the legislative branch...has communicated with that official or employee for the purpose of influencing legislative action, and who, for that purpose and exclusive of the personal travel and subsistence expenses of the person..., either incurs expenses of $100 or more or receives $500 or more as compensation....

Sections 1-201(x) and (d) of the Ethics Law define "person" to include business entities as well as individuals, and "business entity" to be any entity regardless of form. Further, the Ethics Commission has, in its regulations at COMAR 19A.01.01.02(A), defined business entity to include a joint venture, unincorporated association, or other organization. We believe that the Coalition fits within this broad statutory and regulatory definition of business entity and should therefore be viewed as a person for purposes of the lobbyist provisions of the Ethics Law. It would therefore be required to register as a lobbyist pursuant to the provisions of §5-103(a) of the Law if it meets the other criteria set forth in the lobbyist definition.

For purposes of this request, the basic criteria of the lobbyist definition are that the person: 1) communicate in the presence of a legislative official, 2) for the purpose of influencing the official's legislative actions, 3) expending in excess of $100 for certain types of expenses. Consistent with the view of the Public Disclosure Advisory Board (the Commission's predecessor agency in implementing the lobbying disclosure law) Opinion No. 13 (5:13 Md. R. 1087), we believe that an organization acts by its authorized representatives, and through them would be in the presence of officials as contemplated by §1-201(s) of the Ethics Law. The Coalition in this case would appear to be within the presence of legislative officials through the representatives of the member entities who attend the receptions on behalf of their organizations. Also, according to the requestor here, the acknowledged purpose of the receptions and the members' attendance at them is to influence members of the Legislature to support the members' legislative goals. Thus, we conclude that if the Coalition expends in excess of $100 in connection with these endeavors, then it meets the definition of a lobbyist and must register in accordance with Title 5 of the Ethics Law.

A second issue here concerns whether the individual associations that are participating in the Coalition must also register. We believe that if the entities' contributions to the effort exceed the $100 threshold amount, and if they individually sponsor a reception or have their members appear on their behalf at such receptions, then the individual associations also meet the definition of lobbyist, and must register. Under these circumstances it is our view that the individual associations would each of them be engaging in the types of activities that come within the lobbyist definition: 1) they would be (through their representatives) in the presence of legislative officials, 2) for the purpose of influencing legislative actions, and, 3) they would have expended in excess of $100 in furtherance of this activity. Under these circumstances, the participating associations would be lobbyists required to register in accordance with §5-1-3(a) of the Ethics Law.

Both the Coalition and the member associations should also keep in mind that the lobbyist definition also includes natural persons who are compensated $500 or more for engaging in lobbying activities on behalf of another. Thus, individual employees of either the Coalition or a member association who are compensated $500 or more in connection with appearances at receptions (regardless of the titular sponsor of the particular event) meet the lobbyist criteria of §1-201(s) of the Ethics Law and would be required to register pursuant to Title 5.

It should be noted that §5-105 of the Ethics Law requires that each registrant submit a lobbying activity report disclosing expenditures incurred in connection with covered activities. The Law also requires the Ethics Commission to develop and publish various computations of amounts expended by registrants in the various categories. We believe that the purpose of this system of registration and disclosure is to provide the Legislature and the public with information identifying who is engaged in lobbying activities, on whose behalf they are acting, and the extent of expenditures by these individuals and entities in connection with these activities. It is therefore our view that the Coalition and registered member associations should take care to avoid double reporting of expenditures. Thus, member associations that are individually registered should indicate their contribution to the Coalition in the "Other Expenses" space of the lobbyist activity report but not include it in the total of their expenditures. A cross-reference to the Coalition report should be included, rather than the member association reporting the expenditure in the "Special Event" space. The Coalition must then disclose all special event expenses on its report.

Jervis S. Finney
    Reverend John Wesley Holland
    Barbara M. Steckel

Date: July 22, 1981