As conference season looms, government relations professionals everywhere are gearing up for extended travel to meetings across the country, including ALEC, NCSL, CSG, and NGA. Large conferences draw not only representatives of private companies and interest groups, but also state, local, and federal officials. These busy events present endless opportunities for partnership and issue advocacy, but can pose problems when attendees and officials ignore the regulations that govern ethical lobbying conduct.
Conferences are not lobbying free-for-alls or regulation-free zones. If Georgia officials attend a large event in Maine, they are still governed by Georgia's laws pertaining to lobbyists and accepting gifts, including restrictions on meals, lodging, and travel. Similarly, those who intend to lobby those officials are required to adhere to Georgia's regulations when dealing with members of that contingent. If the same lobbyists also plan to meet with a Montana senator attending the event, they must operate within the ethical guidelines set forth by Montana’s code.
Additionally, conference registrants should have an idea of what their agenda might include before the event, especially if meeting with public officials in an advocacy-related capacity is part of their plan. Being aware of these items ahead of time allows attendees to identify whether or not activity will qualify as lobbying, giving them ample time to coordinate registration in the controlling state or jurisdiction. Georgia, for example, requires registration prior to engaging in lobbying, as do Illinois, Virginia, and a host of other states.
As in any relationship, problems are most successfully avoided w@hen each party is aware of their responsibilities. Public officials should be well-versed in their own state or jurisdiction’s legal constraints on their activity with lobbyists, and government relations professionals must be aware of what actions are permissible before working with officials. By settling into this mindset of personal accountability, conference attendees avoid potentially serious legal and professional complications arising from a shaky understanding of the rules.
Large conferences are busy and exciting, but understanding regulations ahead of time and staying on top of your planned meetings can prevent reportable lobbying interactions from falling through the cracks.