Lobbying as a component of your business strategy has become an all-too-common tool in Florida. Florida lobbying regulations and restrictions vary from state to local jurisdictions and differ from executive to legislative acts and decisions. Some lobbying restrictions also make their way into government contracts, procurement and grants. How do you make sure you and your company maintain compliance and avoid violations or, worse yet, headlines? Having a corporate policy governing the retention, use and payment of a lobbyist in Florida can be vital in maintaining corporate compliance on a business-wide basis. A corporate policy should, at a minimum, clearly establish definitions for lobbyist/lobbying, address retention/compensation issues, and formalize record-keeping.
First, definitions of “lobbyist” and “lobbying” differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some definitions are statutory while others are regulatory or even contractual. Regardless, in order to capture all potential lobbyist/lobbying relationships, utilization of the broadest potential definition is recommended. In fact, any relationship in which an individual or firm will be seeking to influence a decision or act on behalf of your company should be examined for potential lobbyist/lobbying implications. When evaluated in light of the applicable jurisdiction’s definitions, there may be no regulated relationship, but this conservative approach is best to insure that no regulated relationship is overlooked.
If it is determined that, pursuant to the applicable jurisdiction, a regulated relationship exists, care must be taken to insure that the terms of retention are legally defensible and enforceable. For example, many jurisdictions prohibit the paying of a success fee to a lobbyist. Therefore, the terms of compensation should be evaluated and clearly delineated in the retention contract so as not to run afoul of such prohibitions.
Finally, most jurisdictions impose a variety of registration and record-keeping requirements on the lobbyist but sometimes on the principal as well. Regardless, your corporate policy should dictate, and your lobbying contracts should spell out, the record-keeping requirements imposed upon the lobbyist and what proof you will require. This typically starts with registration of the lobbyist which usually includes identification of the principal. Lobbyist expenditures are typically required to be reported annually. An often-overlooked component of lobbyist record-keeping occurs at the end of the lobbyist relationship with you. Notifying the applicable jurisdiction that the lobbyist relationship has terminated can often protect you from the unofficial acts of a former lobbyist.
It is important to note that there are many other lobbying-related issues that you may wish to include in your corporate policy. Including issues such as pre-approval of strategy, periodic activity reporting, cones of silence, gift prohibitions, and related matters can help insure compliance with even the most restrictive lobbying provisions. Each of these, as well as the items addressed in this post can save you from a variety of pitfalls ranging from financial to reputational. This post is intended to cover only the basics of a corporate lobbying policy. While the form and substance of your corporate lobbying policy may vary, the importance of having one, particularly in Florida, has never been higher.