The state ethics commission voted Tuesday on new regulations that redefine the work of many public relations firms as lobbying. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.
Many public relations firms will be forced to disclose their clients and how much they are paid under new lobbying regulations adopted by the state ethics commission.
It means consultants at firms like BerlinRosen, which has close ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio, will need to register as lobbyists - and meet the disclosure requirements - to comply with the law.
As NY1 reported last year, BerlinRosen represents paid clients with business before the city while also advising the mayor and other politicians. The firm always said that it did not lobby, but government watchdog groups said the arrangement was ripe for reform.
However, the way the state ethics commission, known as JCOPE, is choosing to regulate these consultants is facing criticism, and not just from the affected firms.
"What JCOPE is now doing is requiring reporting and classifying as lobbying a whole range of first amendment-protected activities that doesn't really directly involve legislators," said Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
The new rules, for example, say consultants who contact the media to try and secure a favorable editorial for a client would have to register as lobbyists. There has also been concern that contact with reporters might also fall within the regulations, but the chairman of the commission insists that is not the case.
"We are not talking about infringing or impinging or confining or constraining the media's ability to pursue the stories that they are well-vested in pursuing," said Daniel Horwitz of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
A number of public relations firms are considering mounting a legal challenge.
"I think this will never hold up in court, and it does infringe on constitutionally protected rights. And we will not agree to it," said Jessica Proud, a consultant with The November Team. "This is the kind of stuff you see in dictatorships, not democracies."
The ethics commisison says it will begin trying to educate firms so they better understand how they might be affected.