Changes to State Lobbying and Gift Laws Coming July 1, 2022
- In Maryland, the new law expands employers' lobbying reporting requirements by removing the contribution condition; therefore, employing or retaining a Maryland lobbyist alone will trigger registration and reporting obligations for an employer.
- In Vermont, the newly enacted Code of Ethics imposes significant restrictions on the type and value of gifts that public officials may accept, bringing the state in line with the majority of other states.
The Bottom Line
Effective July 1, 2022, Maryland will make a significant change to its lobby reporting requirements. Currently, organizations that pay lobbyists more than $500 during a six-month period (November-April and May-October) are required to file semiannual disclosure reports with the State Board of Elections, but only if they make at least one contribution of $500 or more to a statewide or General Assembly candidate. The new law removes the contribution requirement; therefore, merely employing or retaining a Maryland lobbyist will trigger lobby reporting obligations for the organization. Reports will continue to be required on a semiannual basis until the organization’s lobbyist(s) affirmatively terminate their registration.
Consistent with the prior provisions of the law, organizations that employ or retain lobbyists must do their due diligence to ensure they are capturing the relevant contribution information. For corporations, it is not just corporate or PAC contributions that must be disclosed, but also contributions from officers, directors, and partners; contributions made by others at the suggestion or direction of officers, directors, partners, or employees; and contributions made by subsidiaries at least 30 percent of the equity interest of which is controlled by the corporation. For nonprofit organizations, contributions by trustees, board members, and officers are attributable to the nonprofit if the contribution is made at the recommendation of the organization or the individual is compensated for services by the nonprofit.
The new law also imposes additional recordkeeping requirements on filers and establishes civil penalties for an “unknowing” failure to file semi-annual reports and failure to maintain detailed and accurate records. The next report will be due on November 30 covering the period from May 1, through October 31, 2022.
On July 1, 2022, Vermont’s first-ever Code of Ethics regarding gifts to public servants will go into effect. The new rule bans public servants from receiving “anything of value, tangible or intangible, that is given for less than adequate consideration,” unless specifically permitted under the Code.
A few examples of permissible gifts:
- De minimis gifts under $50 per source, per occasion;
- Food and beverage under certain specific circumstances;
- Free attendance at a widely attended charitable, cultural, political, or civic event if provided by the event’s primary sponsor, including cost of admission, transportation, entertainment, food, and refreshments;
- Printed or recorded materials for informational or educational purposes;
- Ceremonial awards, such as plaques and certificates, under $100.
Prior to the enactment of the Code, Vermont was one of a handful of states that did not have a statewide ethics law. There was a limited ban on soliciting gifts from lobbyists and lobbyist employers, but no restrictions on unsolicited gifts. This new law brings Vermont more in line with the vast majority of states that impose similar gift restrictions on state lawmakers and employees.
In addition to the gift provisions discussed above, the Code of Ethics also defines and prohibits conflicts of interest; prohibits the misuse of government resources; gives “whistleblower” protection for public servants who report waste, fraud, abuse of authority, or violations of law; and requires ethics training for all State public servants. The Code provisions apply to all public servants in the three branches of government, including elected and appointed state officials, legislators, State employees, members of State Boards and Commissions, and anyone else authorized to act on behalf of the State of Vermont. It does not apply to town, city, or county employees, who may be subject to local laws or rules.
Need Help Complying With These New Laws?
The Government Relations and Public Policy and Political and Election Law Groups at Ballard Spahr counsel clients on their federal, state and local lobbying and ethics compliance obligations and assists with registration and reporting. Please call us for more information.
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