The Joint Commission on Public Ethics (“Commission”) today announced that it has reached a settlement agreement with a real estate developer for engaging in lobbying without registering and disclosing information to the Commission as required under the Lobbying Act. L&M Development Partners, Inc., a real estate development, construction, and investment firm, has agreed to pay the Commission $25,000 to resolve this matter.
L&M voluntarily contacted the Commission following the January 2019 implementation of the Commission’s Comprehensive Lobbying Regulations, disclosing that the firm should have registered with the Commission as a lobbyist for activity it had conducted before the regulations were issued. L&M admitted that it had met with New York City Council and local and State agency officials in order to attempt to influence government decision making regarding various proceedings common in the real estate development sector. This included amendments to zoning laws, tax credits, and other land use-related matters, which unless specifically excluded in the law or regulations, are considered lobbying activity by the Commission. As part of the settlement agreement, L&M will also file all applicable disclosure reports for the 2018 calendar year.
Importantly, as the Commission has stated repeatedly, the Lobbying Act covers all lobbying activity, regardless of who engages in the conduct; it does not turn on whether a party views itself as a lobbyist. The Lobbying Act regulates those individuals or entities who attempt to influence a state or local law, regulation, procurement, or other activity found in Section 1-c(c) of the Lobbying Act. If those individuals or entities spend or receive compensation in excess of $5,000 in a calendar year on lobbying activities, they must report their activities to the Commission.
Real estate development projects often involve activities that implicate the Lobbying Act. Seeking a change to a zoning law, for example, which requires a municipality to pass a new or amended law, ordinance, or resolution, falls squarely within an activity covered by the Act. In contrast, seeking a variance from a local law, where a change to the law is not required - only permission to deviate from the law - is not a covered lobbying activity. In addition, seeking permits and licenses is specifically excluded from the definition of lobbying.
If an entity has engaged in unregistered lobbying, please contact JCOPE immediately. In resolving these matters, JCOPE routinely considers voluntary disclosure and cooperation. Anyone with questions about the Lobbying Act or who wishes to report potential unregistered lobbying activity should contact the Commission at 1-800-87-ETHICS (873-8442).