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Profession Seeks to Halt New York State Opinion Redefining Public Relations as Lobbying

March 9, 2016

Five PR agencies filed suit against the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) on Tuesday, March 8, seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the body from enacting regulations that would reclassify public affairs professionals as lobbyists.

As PRWeek reports, a trio of industry groups — the PR Council, the Arthur W. Page Society and PRSA — have separately filed an affidavit seeking to block the advisory opinion.

“Because this issue is so important to the communications industry, our respective associations are joining forces to help explain to the court the broad-reaching impact and perhaps unintended consequences [of the new rule] that may affect our members,” said PR Council president Renee Wilson.

Passed in January, the opinion holds that PR agencies and consultants can influence public officials via their interaction with the media, and that PR consultants and their clients would have to disclose their communications with some media and government officials in the state, just as lobbyists do. Agencies that don’t comply would be cited.

The PR profession affidavit noted differences between PR pros and lobbyists, saying the latter often “work directly with elected officials and their staffs to conceptualize, craft and promote or block, the passage of legislation at the local, state, or federal levels.”

The affidavit said that under the advisory opinion, PR firms that do not wish to register as lobbyists will be deterred from communicating with the press on legislative issues, and the cost of creating internal compliance systems may prevent some PR firms from doing business in New York State.

PRWeek reports that the next steps are a court case in which the judge will decide whether to enjoin the advisory opinion and any enforcement based on it, which is expected to occur in the next month. A compromise may be an option if New York State can clarify or amend the advisory opinion to narrow the scope of who is regulated. — Greg Beaubien

For further reading about the JCOPE advisory opinion:

PRSA and Coalition of Public Relations Associations File Affidavits Addressing New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics Redefinition of Profession

PRSA Statement Regarding the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics Redefinition of Public Relations

Public Relations Firms Sue New York Ethics Panel Over New Disclosure Rule


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