Snell & Wilmer
Legal Alert
   
June 6, 2017
Phoenix City Council Amends Lobbying Ordinance to Allow Enforcement
by Brett W. Johnson and Sara J. Agne

The Phoenix City Council recently voted to amend the City’s lobbying ordinance in an attempt to reinforce registration regulations and enhance enforcement penalties. This amendment signals important changes for those paid to try to influence decisions at the City level.

First, the amendment expands the definition of City official beyond the Mayor and the City Council to include anyone who serves in the administrative offices of either, as well as any person who serves on a City of Phoenix board, committee, or commission.

Lobbyist is defined in the City Code as any person compensated for communicating with any City official—for the purpose of influencing official action—for a person other than himself. Expenditure means a payment, distribution, loan, advance, deposit, or gift, including a promise or agreement—whether or not legally enforceable—to make an expenditure that provides a benefit to a City official and that is incurred on behalf of the lobbyist. Lobbyists will now have to disclose that they are acting in the capacity of a lobbyist when communicating with any City official.

The filing conditions were also amended to require lobbyists to provide a unique email address and to allow filing with the City Clerk in electronic format. Electronic filings do not require a notary and are filed under penalty of perjury. Lobbyists are still required to report all expenditures quarterly, but the amendment now requires quarterly expenditure reports be filed no later than 5 p.m. on April 15, July 15, October 15, and January 15. If any of these dates falls on a Saturday then the report must be filed on the next business day.

Unlike the City’s previous ordinance, this amendment provides a mechanism for enforcement. A lobbyist’s first two offenses within a seven-year period would be civil violations, punishable by a fine ($1,000 for a first offense and $2,500 for the next). A third violation in that timeframe would be a criminal misdemeanor. Additionally, lobbyists who violate these rules would face suspensions from contacting City officials, with 30 days for a first offense, 60 days for a second offense and 90 for a third.

Any individual may file a complaint containing specific allegations of violations of this new ordinance. However, the new ordinance does provide a “cure provision” under which an individual who receives a notice of violation may cure said violation by complying with the ordinance within 15 days of the notice. These complaints and subsequent investigations will be handled by an independent Ethics Commission. This Commission is not expected to form until next year, and until such time all complaints would be handled by City attorneys.

This new ordinance is set to take effect July 1 of this year. Both individuals and organizations who are paid to affect decisions at Phoenix City Hall and those who pay them may wish to consider these new requirements and enforcement mechanisms.

It is important for businesses and trade groups that engage lobbyists to ensure via policy and written agreement that these and other regulations are met. Specifically, the City is only one political body in the State that has its own lobbying regulations. Just because lobbyists comply with one regulation does not mean that they are properly complying with other jurisdictions’ regulations.

Furthermore, a good internal policy may also address the restrictions that government officials must comply with in regard to acceptance of gifts and other ethics regulations. As reflected by the City’s recent revisions, all regulations are regularly revised and therefore, entities and individuals may also wish to review and revise their own policies, plans, and procedures.

Snell & Wilmer 2017 summer associate Mike Calvanico provided material assistance in the production of this alert.

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