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Interpretative Opinion 01-07: Lobbyist Registration Requirements

May 16, 2001
 

Joe Sternlieb, Deputy Director
Downtown DC Business Improvement District
1250 H Street, NW
Suite 850
Washington, DC 20005

Re: Lobbyist Registration Requirements

Dear Mr. Sternlieb:

This responds to your request for an opinion concerning whether two organizations, the Downtown DC Business Improvement District Corporation and the Center for City Partnership, are required to register as lobbyists with the Office of Campaign Finance.  You state that the Downtown DC Business Improvement District (BID) is a 501(c )(6) not-for-profit organization that is chartered by the District of Columbia to pursue the activities about which you communicate with government officials pursuant to DC Law 11-134.  You further state that BIDs work closely with city agencies, and exist solely for the purpose of improving the economic development climate for the city within their respective boundaries.  Moreover, you represent that BIDs accept no money, from any source, to do advocacy work; and that BID legislation specifically prohibits lobbying on property related issues such as zoning.

The second organization, the Center for City Partnership (CCP), is described as a public/private partnership that advocates positions agreed upon by its public/private board of directors.  You state that the CCP is co-chaired by the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, and that it shares common executive staff and office space with the Downtown DC BID.  You represent that the CCP’s mission is to convene, plan, mediate, and advocate on behalf of projects that will forward the city’s downtown action agenda, created by the DC Office of Planning.  You further represent that the CCP will neither engage in advocacy work, nor accept money to advocate for private interests.

DC Code § 1-1451(7)(A) defines the term, “lobbying”, as “communicating directly with any official in the legislative or executive branch of the District of Columbia with the purpose of influencing any legislative action or an administrative decision.”
 
DC Code § 1-1452 provides, “a person shall register with the Director pursuant to § 1-1454 if such person receives compensation or expends funds in an amount of $250 or more in any 3-consecutive-calendar-month period for lobbying.”

A two-prong test is generally applied to determine whether an individual or entity is required to file as a lobbyist in the District of Columbia.  First, there must be a communication with an official either in the legislative or executive branch for the purpose of influencing a legislative or administrative action.  Second, there must be compensation received or expended for such communication.

A review of the relevant legislation establishing BIDs in the District of Columbia, and the promotional materials submitted by the Downtown DC BID, determined that these organizations were not established to engage in lobbying activities.  In fact, DC Law 11-134 prohibits lobbying activities by BIDs on property related issues.  As you are aware, the communication with District government officials on behalf of private interests, with the intent to influence legislative or administrative action, for which compensation is received, is the essence of lobbying.  Notwithstanding, the absence of compensation to effect the intent removes the activity from the strictures of the District’s lobbying statute.  Therefore, it is the opinion of this Office the Downtown DC BID is not required to register as a lobbyist with the Office of Campaign Finance based on the statutory prohibition on same.  You represent that the Center City Partnership (CCP) “will not do advocacy for private interests nor will it accept money to advocate for private interests.”  However, should the mission of CCP change, i.e., the organization engages in advocacy activities on behalf of private interests for compensation, it would be required to register with this Office.