We've all had a parking ticket. Frustrating, and one of those things, had we paid more attention, that could have been avoided. Failing to comply with lobbying laws, no matter how “minor” the transgression, is not in the parking ticket category. A mistake, inadvertent or not, could severely compromise both lobbyist and employer.
Just last week, the City of Los Angeles's Ethics Commission fined two non-profits for not submitting accurate reports. One organization was fined $30,000, which is the highest penalty in that jurisdiction. The other non-profit was fined $17,500 for not reporting how much it spent on lobbying.
The organization fined $30,000 chalked up the omission to “an unintentional mistake.” That sounds like not putting enough quarters in the meter. In reality, failing to comply is serious business. This unintentional mistake could also be characterized as failing to take compliance seriously and building a program to ensure compliance.
The fines levied here are not the only penalty, or even the primary penalty, of failing to comply. The negative effect on an organization's reputation from failing to comply is more damaging than a fine. These local non-profits are likely to recover fairly quickly, but if instead the violator was a major corporation, the violation would live on for quite some time.
People and organizations make mistakes. But it is difficult to excuse mistakes that arise out of neglect. Failing to take lobbying compliance seriously can result not just in fines, or a damaged reputation, but also an unintended change in employment.