June 05, 2007
Charles R. Lowery, Jr.
Chairperson, Board of Elections and
Judiciary Square – Suite 200
441 4th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
Dear Mr. Lowery:
You requested an opinion regarding whether you, as an employee of the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) must register as a lobbyist with the District of Columbia Office of Campaign Finance (OCF). You enclose a brochure which describes CRL and its mission; and, you point out that CRL has tax-exempt status. Pursuant to your reading of the lobbying statute, you believe that CRL is not “required to register due to its non-profit 501(c) (3) status.” Moreover, you are concerned that as Chairman of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, you “would like to make sure that [you are] in compliance with the laws of the District of Columbia.”
D.C. Official Code §1-1105.01(7)(A) (2001 Edition) defines “lobbying” to mean “communicating directly with an official in the legislative or executive branch of the District of Columbia government with the purpose of influencing any legislative action or an administrative decision.”
D.C. Official Code §1-1105.01(8) defines “lobbyist” to mean “any person who engaged in lobbying. Public officials communicating directly or soliciting others to communicate with other public officials shall not be deemed lobbyists for the purposes of this chapter, so long as such public officials do not receive compensation in addition to their salary for such communications or solicitations and make such communications and solicitations in their official capacity.”
D.C. Official Code §1-1105.02 requires, in part, subject to certain exceptions, a person to “register with the Director. . .if such person receives compensation or expends funds in an amount of $250 or more in any 3-consecutive-calendar-month period for lobbying.”
D.C. Official Code §1-1105.03(a) provides, in part, that “[a] person need not register with the Director. . .if such person is. . .(1) [a] public official, or an employee of the United States acting in his or her official capacity; [or (4) a]ny entity specified in §47-1802.01(4), no activities of which include lobbying, the result of which shall inure to the financial gain or benefit of the entity.”
D.C. Official Code §1-1105.06(e) specifies that “[n]o public official shall be employed as a lobbyist while acting as a public official, except as provided in §1-1105.03.”
D.C. Official Code §47-1802.01 specifies that certain organizations are tax exempt and subsection (4)(A) states that “[c]ivic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, or local associations of employees, the membership of which is limited to the employees of a designated person or persons in a particular municipality, and the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes[.]”
According to the brochure enclosed with your request, CRL was established in 2002 by the Self-Help Credit Union to specifically outlaw predatory mortgage lending and other outside lending practices, such as payday lending. The mission of CRL, as “a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and policy organization [is] to protecting homeownership and family wealth by working to eliminate abusive financial practices.”
Upon further review of the brochure, it is readily apparent that CRL, a nonprofit with a mandate “to protect homeownerships and family wealth by eliminating abusive financial practices,” is indeed an organization “not organized for profit but [which operates] exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.” Id. CRL grew out of a non-profit institution, Self-Help Credit Union; and, it is a non-profit institution, with a tax-exempt status. More importantly, because CRL is an organization which does not reap the financial benefits of any lobbying with which its employees may engage, it is considered an entity excepted from registration with the Director, as a result of its lobbying activities.
It should be noted that not only must CRL be reviewed for lobbying requirements pursuant to the statute, your status as a public official, who as a CRL employee who may be lobbying therefor, must also be scrutinized. Notwithstanding the excepted nature of CRL, as a member of the Board of Elections and Ethics, you are prohibited from being employed as a lobbyist while acting as a public official. See D.C. Official Code §1-1105.06(e).
You have represented herein that you may lobby for CRL as an employee thereof. You must be ever vigilant to ensure that your prospective actions as a lobbyist must not coincide in any manner with your position as a public official, such that a person may believe or have reason to believe that you are lobbying for CRL while acting as a BOEE member. See Id. When lobbying for CRL, there must be visible separation in your status as a CRL employee and that of a BOEE member, a public official.
Correspondingly, there may be occasions when you must lobby as a BOEE member. Pursuant to D.C. Official Code §1-1105.01(8), when you, as a public official, are “communicating directly or soliciting other to communicate with other public official,” you shall not be deemed a lobbyist in these circumstances so long as you do not receive compensation therefor and you make such communications or solicitations in your official capacity.
The foregoing is an Interpretative Opinion of the Director of the Office of Campaign Finance. Pursuant to D.C. Official Code §1-1103.05, you are entitled to request an Advisory Opinion from the Board of Elections and Ethics on this transaction or activity.