An opinion has been requested from a person (the Registrant) registered pursuant to the lobbyist disclosure provisions of the Public Ethics Law (Article 40A, Title 5, Annotated Code of Maryland, the Ethics Law) concerning whether expenditures 40A, Title 5, Annotated Code of Maryland, the Ethics Law) concerning whether expenditures incurred by a registrant's employer for the purpose of educating legislators in the general organization, needs and current technology of the employer's industry must be reported as lobbying expenses.
The Registrant is employed by a Maryland utility company (the Company). According to the Registrant, the Company intends to make a series of presentations to legislators on such matters as nationwide changes in its industry; local customer billing and collection practices; matters affecting the Public Service Commission (including filings for new rates); restructuring of existing rates and the establishment of new service and equipment offerings; employment policies and personnel matters; the impact of taxes and fees levied on the Company by Federal, State and local governments; and matters relating to the Company's structure, operations, facilities and plans.
The presentations would be off Company property and involve provision of a lunch or dinner meal. Company personnel involved in making the presentations will include both registered lobbyists and other Company personnel. These presentations are viewed by the Registrant as educational activities that would be beneficial to the Company in avoiding the problems caused by legislators introducing and considering piecemeal legislation about an industry without sufficient information. Thus the various presentations, may, to some extent, deal with past, present or future legislative action or subject matters that could reasonably be viewed as of concern to members of the Legislature. The Registrant indicates, however, that he does not anticipate the various presentations would necessarily relate to specific legislation pending before the Legislature at the time of the event.
Section 5-105(a) of the Public Ethics Law (Article 40A, §5-105(a), Annotated Code of Maryland, the Ethics Law) requires a registrant to file a lobbying activity report for each reporting period during which the registrant is registered to lobby. The report requires the disclosure of total expenditures on acts requiring registration. Section 1-201(s) of the Ethics Law defines a "lobbyist" to include a person who either expends certain amounts or is compensated above a certain amount in connection with appearances before officials in an attempt to influence legislative action." Legislative action" is defined in §1-201(r) to include:
[the] introduction, sponsorship, consideration, debate, amendment, passage, defeat, approval, veto, or any other official action or non-action on any bill, resolution, amendments, nomination, appointment, report, or any other matter pending or proposed in a committee or subcommittee in either house of the General Assembly, or any matter which is within the official jurisdiction of the General Assembly, the Legislative Policy Committee or any committee or subcommittee thereof, or any legislative bill pending or presented to the Governor for signature or veto.
We do not believe that the mere fact that a bill regarding a particular matter has not been proposed necessarily places the particular matter outside the jurisdiction of the General Assembly, the Legislative Policy Committee or any committee or subcommittee of these entities. The powers of the General Assembly are plenary except to the extent those powers are specifically limited. Further, it is our opinion that a decision on whether or not to introduce legislation concerning a matter constitutes "legislative action," as contemplated in the Ethics Law definition. Where a decision is taken due to the influence of a person who was in an official's presence during a reporting period, that person would seem to be influencing legislative action within the jurisdiction of the General Assembly.
We therefore conclude that expenditures for events that are designed to provide information and company views and to influence, directly or indirectly, how members or staff of the General Assembly act or refrain from acting on issues of interest to the Registrant's employer, are "expenditures on acts requiring registration" that must be reported in accordance with §5-105(a) of the Ethics Law.1. However, where there are expenses that are very clearly not intended to influence Maryland legislative action, they need not be reported and expenditures may be disclosed on a pro-rated basis (see Opinion No. 81-22).
Herbert J. Belgrad, Chairman
Jervis S. Finney
John Wesley Holland
Date: February 10, 1982
1 The Registrant meets the "lobbyist" criteria of section 1-201(s) based on other expenditures, so application of that section is not, itself, an issue here. However, it should be noted that as this type of activity discussed here is viewed as intended to influence legislative action, those who would otherwise not be required to register, but who expend $100 or more in sponsoring such events would meet the criteria of § 1-201(s) and be subject to the registration and disclosure provisions of Title 5 of the Ethics Law.