New Berkeley Lobbying Law Alert (December 2019)

A new Berkeley law effective January 1, 2020 will, for the first time, require local “lobbyists” to register and file quarterly lobbying reports.  The City Council took over a year to develop the new law, which contains some of the broadest reporting requirements and strictest restrictions of any local lobbying law in the state.

An individual will qualify as a Berkeley lobbyist if he or she:

1.     Receives $1,000 or more in a month to communicate with any City elected official, staffer, Commissioner or City employee for the purpose of influencing any proposed or pending governmental actions, including ordinances, City contracts or grants, land use matters, etc., on behalf of one or more clients; or

2.     Is a salaried, in-house employee of a business, labor union or trade association who spends any time communicating with any City official or employee for the purpose of influencing any governmental action.

The law contains some of the same exceptions found in other local lobbying laws – including accompanying registered lobbyists to meetings; participating in collective bargaining; submitting bids for City contracts and responding to bids and RFPs; and negotiating existing City contracts.

The law also contains two unique exceptions – which both reveal something about the political landscape in Berkeley and raise questions about the constitutionality of the new law.  Employees of labor unions and 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofits will not qualify as Berkeley lobbyists – even if they lobby City officials and employees on a regular, substantial basis about City government matters.

Quarterly reports will include: the governmental action lobbied; the name and address of the lobbyist’s clients; the name and title of each City employee or official contacted; employment of any City official or a member of a City official’s immediate family; consulting work done on behalf of a City official or candidate; and political fundraising done for City candidates.  One “compromise” which was included in the final version of the law is that lobbyists who are sole proprietorships or who work for a lobbying firm with four employees or fewer only have to file one annual report, not quarterly reports.

Other notable provisions of Berkeley’s new lobbying law include:

*    $500 annual registration fee.

*    Required training course within 30 days of initial registration.

*    New “revolving door” regulations which prohibit former City officials or employees from lobbying the City for two years after leaving City employment.

*    Individuals who ran a Council or Mayoral campaign will be permanentlyprohibited from lobbying their current or former clients, whether on behalf of their employer or clients.

*    $240 annual limit on “gifts” to City officials or employees from registered lobbyists and their clients.

Penalties for violating any of these reporting requirements or legal restrictions are more severe than under most other lobbying laws.  In addition to facing potential fines of $1,000 levied by the City’s Open Government Commission, intentional violations can lead to fines up to $25,00 and individuals who fail to register within a week of being contacted by the City Clerk will be barred from lobbying for three months.

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Feel free to contact a Sutton Law Firm attorney or Political Compliance Specialist if you have any questions regarding San Jose or other local lobbying laws.