As you may recall, San Francisco voters passed a law last November to impose monthly reporting requirements on businesses, nonprofits organizations and labor unions which spend $2,500 during any calendar month to urge people to directly communicate with City officials in order to influence pending or proposed legislative or administrative action (i.e., grassroots lobbying).
This law takes effect this month: organizations which spend $2,500 or more on grassroots lobbying activities in February will need to file an “Expenditure Lobbyist” report with the Ethics Commission by March 15. These reports ask for the total amount spent on grassroots lobbying, with payments of $1,000 or more itemized, as well as the legislative or administrative actions sought to influence, and political contributions to San Francisco candidates, ballot measures and independent expenditure committees.
In order to comply with this new reporting requirement, you must start tracking expenditures relating to convincing residents to attend a City Hall hearing or to call or e-mail a Supervisor, the Mayor, City Commissioner, etc.; reportable grassroots lobbying expenditures could include:
- E-mail blasts (though communications to an organization’s own members and employees are not reportable).
- Newspaper ads.
- Employee time spent putting together these grassroots lobbying activities
- Mail pieces.
- Paying consultants for a report or study used to convince people to contact City officials.
- Chartering buses to take people to a City Hall hearing.
- T-shirts, signs or buttons for people to wear at a City Hall hearing.
- Paying a consulting firm to put together the grassroots lobbying activities.
Importantly, payments which you make to a registered lobbying firm for these activities are explicitly not covered under the new law, whether part of a regular monthly retainer or billed separately. This exception in the law could provide a way for you not to publicly disclose that you are spending money on grassroots lobbying – simply have your registered lobbying firm coordinate the grassroots lobbying and pay the vendors directly. Although these additional payments would be disclosed on the lobbyist’s monthly report, you would not have to file an Expenditure Lobbyist report or otherwise publicly disclose these grassroots lobbying activities.
We have added a question to the monthly questionnaire which we send you in connection with our preparation of your regular monthly lobbying reports in order to determine whether you will need to file an Expenditure Lobbyist report by March 15.
Feel free to call us with any questions about these new reporting requirements.