By Rob Schofield
On May 9, the N.C. General Assembly will return to Raleigh for the 2006 “short session.”
In light of an ongoing series of national and state political scandals, lawmakers are certain to give serious consideration to a package of lobbying reforms developed by the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying Reform.
Proposals likely to be considered include enhanced reporting requirements for lobbyists and their clients, bans on gifts and political contributions from lobbyists, creation of an independent state ethics commission, and expedited implementation of reforms passed last year.
As a general matter, reforms of this kind should provide significant benefits to nonprofits.
While federal and state laws specifically authorize and encourage 501(c)(3) nonprofits to lobby, most lack the resources to do so in an active way.
Fewer still can play the stereotypical insider game of “wining and dining” government officials.
To the extent that lawmakers can advance the cause of making policy debates more a battle of ideas and less a battle of resources and access, nonprofits, and the public at large, will benefit.
Not every reform, however, makes perfect sense for nonprofits.
The overwhelming majority of nonprofits that employ a lobbyist, for instance, will have nothing at all to report in the way of gifts, contributions and other expenditures – however tightly those terms are defined.
These groups and individuals could face a formidable — and probably unnecessary — burden and expense if required to file a notarized report every month confirming that they spent nothing.
Similarly, recent increases in the cost of registration for lobbyists and “principals” — the organizations they represent — have the potential to be burdensome to nonprofits.
Finally, many observers are very concerned that state law remains unclear and poorly understood when it comes to defining “lobbying” and specifying who must register with the state in the first place.
For all of these reasons, it is important for lawmakers and regulators to proceed with both dispatch and care in the coming weeks and months.
While it’s essential to seize upon the opportunity to enact important political reforms, such changes should not be enacted at the expense of injuring the very groups that ought to be among the prime beneficiaries.
Rob Schofield is director of public policy and government relations for the N.C. Center for Nonprofits