CPI Puts Lobbyists on Notice
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 30, 2009
CONTACT: Walter C. Ayres
ALBANY — In a notice widely distributed via e-mail to lobbyists and their clients, as well as to State ethics officers today, the Commission on Public Integrity provided guidance on the legal issues surrounding legislative receptions, noting that financial penalties for future violations of the law will be higher than the penalties imposed this year.
The Public Employee Ethics Reform Act of 2007 significantly changed the law by prohibiting lobbyists and clients from offering, and public officials, State officers and employees from accepting, gifts of more than nominal value, which the Commission has determined to be no more than the cost of an ordinary cup of coffee. Gifts of $75 or less had been allowed in the past, and legislative receptions often were permissible and common.
In 2009, the Commission charged eight lobbying entities with violating the law. Because the change in the law may not have been well-known, the Commission has been settling the cases for $250 each, in addition to an admission from the lobbying entity that it has violated the law and an agreement to provide the Commission with the names of those who were invited and/or attended. Today’s notice repeats what the Commission’s Chairman has previously stated during the Commission’s public meetings, i.e., that Commissioners were unanimous in agreeing that future violations will be treated much more severely.
Barry Ginsberg, Executive Director of the Commission, said, “The Commission intends to impose stricter monetary penalties on those who admit or are proved to have violated the gift ban with respect to legislative receptions. Lobbying Act §1-o authorizes imposition of a civil penalty of up to $25,000 per violation on lobbyists or clients who violate the gift ban. Thus, the Commission is authorized to impose a civil penalty of $25,000 for each public official whom a lobbyist or client invites to a legislative reception that is not a widely attended event. In determining an appropriate civil penalty in any particular case, the Commission will consider several factors including, but not limited to, the violator’s history of Lobbying Act violations, the financial resources of the violator, and the size and cost of the event. With respect to an appropriate settlement amount, the Commission will also consider whether the violator cooperated with the Commission’s inquiry. A State officer or employee who accepts an unlawful gift is subject to a civil penalty of up to $40,000.”