New regulations in New York are making PR pros and journalists see red.
On Tuesday, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted 10-3 to approve an advisory opinion that requires PR pros to register as lobbyists if communicating
with members of the news media.
Under the opinion, political consultants (and firms) who are paid to help sway public policy—including pitching a client’s position or insight to a
reporter for editorial pieces—must disclose the interaction. They must also disclose their clients’ names, fees and additional information about the
legislation behind the pitch.
The opinion expands the definition of lobbying to include any media relations efforts with an editorial board or reporter.
The opinion is meant to enforce greater regulations on lobbying activities and cut down on political corruption. However, critics say political consultants
aren’t the issue.
reported that the high level of corruption in the state is because the “Commission’s members are appointed by the very people it is supposed to be
monitoring,” and examined its less-than-stellar track record:
Created in 2011, JCOPE’s supposed job is to root out conflicts of interest by New York’s 250,000 government employees, and curb the influence of lobbyists.
Unfortunately, despite a fascinating—no, make that terrifying—treasure trove of information about lobbyists and lobbying, it has played a role in ousting
exactly one public official: Assemblyman Vito Lopez. And his offenses centered on sexual harassment.
Though language that would have forced PR pros to disclose conversations with reporters not involved with editorial content was removed from the final
opinion, communicators say the regulation is an “overreach” and chills public debate:
New York Law School professor Nadine Strossen told The Observer
that the regulation is an “assault” on the First Amendment:
This proposed regulation is a double-barreled assault on core First Amendment freedoms. Lobbying constitutes the expressly protected, hard-won right “to
petition the government.” And the preeminent historic purpose of the free press guarantee was to bar the government from exercising any licensing power
JCOPE’s chair, Daniel Horwitz, said the opinion is a “reasonable regulation of speech.”
A footnote to the opinion says the proposed regulations aren’t intended to "restrict a reporter's ability to gather information.” Instead, it seeks to
“generate transparency in the activities of paid media consultants who are hired to proactively advance their client's interests through the media."
"If you are being paid to lobby, the public has a right to know that," Horwitz said. "We're not talking about infringing or impinging or confining or
constraining the media's ability to pursue the stories that they pursuing."
What do you think of the regulations, PR Daily readers? Is this a step forward in preventing political corruption—or an infringement on First