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Profession Takes a Stand Against New Rule to Define Public Relations as Lobbying

January 29, 2016

An advisory opinion that New York’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) approved on Jan. 26 may restrict First Amendment rights for some by expanding the definition of lobbying to include public relations, according to PR professionals and other agency leaders.

As AdAge reports, the JCOPE-approved advisory opinion would require consultants or agencies working on government issues to register as lobbyists when interacting with members of the press. “Any attempt by a consultant to induce a third party — whether the public or the press — to deliver the client’s lobbying message to a public official would constitute lobbying under these rules,” the opinion states.

Andrew Celli, a civil rights attorney representing four PR agencies that are proposing guidance for the definition of lobbying, said the implications of the new rule “are vast” and “profoundly unconstitutional.”

Jonathan Rosen, principal of BerlinRosen, one of the agencies Celli is representing, said that “this rule would have a tremendous chilling effect on our clients’ ability to communicate with the media and the public,” and that it “gets in the way of the work of a free press.”

Daniel Horwitz, the commission’s chair, told Newsday that “If you are being paid to lobby, the public has a right to know,” and that the new rule would not infringe upon or constrain the media’s ability to pursue stories.

Mark McClennan, APR, PRSA’s 2016 National Chair, said the Society supports its members, PR firms, journalists and others who oppose the expanded definition of lobbying. He said the rule does not support the commission’s goal of restoring public trust in government and that it could force small firms and independent consultants to charge more to cover the higher cost of licensing and disclosure, or to turn down business opportunities that are important to the economy of New York State.

You may read PRSA's full statement on the JCOPE advisory opinion here. — Greg Beaubien

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