Just don’t call these consultants lobbyists
They move government without having to disclose their activities. Call them clever, call them stealthy.
[A fine bit of writing and reporting from Chris Bragg]
The fine line that separates lobbying from other activities is defined under city and state laws as "any attempt to influence" legislation, executive orders, agency rules and regulations having the force and effect of law, and a host of other governmental actions. Registered lobbyists face paperwork requirements to comply with disclosure rules—and fines if they don’t.
Strategic consultants, on the other hand, do not have to register, and regulators rarely flag cases of unregistered lobbying—something registered lobbyists often gripe about.
Still, just because a consultant meets with a lawmaker does not mean he or she is lobbying, legal experts say. Moreover, these consultants say they refrain from asking lawmakers to make policy decisions benefiting clients not only to avoid crossing into what’s defined in law as lobbying, but also because they don’t want to risk harming their close relationships with politicians.
That may seem counterintuitive. After all, to attract clients, traditional lobbyists often tout their access to lawmakers. But in an era of unprecedented media saturation, savvy politicians may curtail access for fear of unwanted attention from meeting with lobbyists.
"It’s very cumbersome, and there’s always the ‘gotcha’ factor," said Sid Davidoff, a longtime lobbyist who heads the New York Advocacy Association, a trade group. "Once you’re in the system, you’re under the watchful eye."