Ethics: Advisory Opinion No. 2001-14

Advisory Opinion No. 2001-14
Advisory Opinion No. 2001-14

Application Of The Lobbyist Code’s Registration
And Reporting Requirements To On-line Communications

The State Ethics Commission has been asked how the registration and reporting requirements of The Code Of Ethics For Lobbyists, Conn. Gen. Stat. Chapter 10, Part II, apply to on-line communications.

As a threshold issue, the Commission has previously ruled that on-line communications intended to influence legislative or administrative action constitute lobbying. State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion 96-22, 58 CLJ 26, p.5E (12/24/96).

Although e-lobbying utilizes new technologies, determination of its costs, for purposes of the Lobbyist Code, is not materially different than the determinations made regarding more traditional lobbying efforts. Specifically, pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-94(2), registration with the Commission is required if $2,000 or more is expended for lobbying in a calendar year. In making this calculation, an entity must be cognizant of the definition of "Lobbying" which includes both "communicating directly or soliciting others to communicate" with state officials or staff for the purpose of influencing legislative or administrative action. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-91(k). See also, the Code’s definition of "Expenditure" which includes "communications" which refer to pending legislative or administrative action and "solicitations" of others to communicate with a public official or state employee for the purpose of influencing such action. Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-91(f).

Applying these Code requirements to e-lobbying, the personnel and material (e.g., hardware and software) costs of establishing and hosting a website or of producing a grass roots e-mail campaign for the purpose of influencing state action should be included in calculating whether an entity is required to register; and would be reportable, pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-96, once the registration threshold is reached. Additionally, pursuant to Commission Regulations, the cost of any phone lines utilized in the effort, Internet access charges, and the rental cost of any office space (for any month in which the office is used primarily for lobbying) would need to be included in the entity’s calculations. Regulations Of Conn. State Agencies 1-92-49(a). It will not, however, be necessary to attribute any additional costs to actual e-mail communications, no matter how numerous; since, by virtue of the technology involved, such communications are essentially free once the underlying personnel and material expenditures have been taken into account.

Finally, one important exception to the above requirements must be noted. Under the Code’s definition of "Expenditure", there is an exemption for the cost of "a newsletter of other release" sent by an organization or business entity to "its members, shareholders or employees". Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-91(f). An e-mail or other on-line communication shall be deemed to qualify as an "other release" pursuant to this exemption; and, therefore, need not be counted for registration or reporting purposes, if the electronic distribution is limited to the classes of individuals enumerated in the statute.

By order of the Commission,

Rosemary Giuliano

Content Last Modified on 9/7/2005 8:03:54 AM