Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Puerto Rico House Bill Would Establish Regulations for Lobbying

By on July 8, 2017

Despite the influence that some lobbyists could have when it comes to changing public policy, the profession has not been highly regulated in Puerto Rico. However, a House bill aims to change that situation and put more regulations in place.

HB 808, authored by House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez (NPP-District 36), seeks to establish regulations very similar to the U.S. Lobbying Disclosure Act, which regulates lobbying at the federal level.

While the Lobbying Disclosure Act is a longer piece of legislation, the local House bill uses most of the same definitions, general nomenclature and many of the dispositions as the federal law. However, HB 808 goes a bit further in some areas by including recommendations from the Puerto Rico Justice Department and the Office of Government Ethics, and generally establishes more rigorous parameters than the federal law.

Currently, local lobbyists should register in the House and Senate, but only registration in the lower chamber is actually compulsory. If HB 808 becomes law, it would require lobbyists to register not only for lobbying work in the legislative branch, but also any lobbying done in the executive branch. For both branches of government, the measure also covers any employee, adviser or official who could influence public policy, legislation or other types of government actions.

The measure excludes lobbying work at municipalities, the judicial branch, National Guard, Office of Government Ethics and Office of the Comptroller. While for most of these areas lobbying could be considered by some as a breach of ethics, lobbying frequently happens at municipal governments.

According to HB 808, any lobbyist would be required to register with the State Department for work at the executive branch and with the respective secretaries of the House and Senate. The required information would include the names of their clients. Furthermore, any lobbyist would need to submit reports on a quarterly basis detailing their lobbying activities, including a list of the people the lobbyist contacted.

This aforementioned information would need to be specified by client, as the bill states in the case of communications, with “a certification of the people who were contacted by the lobbyist in representation of the bodies that comprise the Legislative Assembly or the agencies, and the date of each contact.”

The parameters for the lobbyist’s reports are one of the dispositions that have a higher standard than the federal regulation. The Lobbyist Disclosure Act asks for semi-annual reports and the lobbyist only has to indicate the agencies, not the people, which were contacted. The federal law asks for “a statement of the House of Congress and federal agencies contacted by the lobbyist.”

On the other hand, in the reports for the federal government, the lobbyist is asked to include “a good-faith estimate of the total amount of all income from the client (including any payment to the registrant [the lobbyist] by any other person for lobbying activities on behalf of the client.” The federal regulation also asks for the lobbyist to include a list of expenses for lobbying activities that the person did in his/her own behalf. However, such dispositions are not included in HB 808.

It is worth pointing out that both the Justice Department and the Office of Government Ethics argued for the need to create a disposition that addresses the issue of politicians who transition to lobbyists, widely known as a “revolving door” in politics. To address these concerns, the bill was amended to implement a two-year ban on any former politicians to lobby, for or against, any public policy pertaining to an issue they handled while in public office.

The House approved HB 808 on June 20 and, two days later, the Senate assigned the bill to its Government Affairs Committee, which is presided over by Sen. Miguel Romero (NPP-San Juan).

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