By Rob Schofield
North Carolina’s new lobbying and ethics reform law has a lot of implications for nonprofit organizations and the advocates who represent them.
In general, the law promises to benefit nonprofits by discouraging the “pay-to-play” culture that has been far too prevalent in Raleigh.
This, in turn, should help level the playing field, at least somewhat, between nonprofits and the moneyed interests with which they must compete for the attention of lawmakers.
Still, despite its many benefits, the new law does place additional responsibilities on nonprofits that engage in public policy advocacy.
NEW BAN ON GIFTS
Though it has lots of exceptions, the new ban on gifts from lobbyists or groups they represent to specified public officials is far reaching.
Indeed, it is a “no-cup-of-coffee” law – that is, lobbyists and the groups they represent, known as “principals” in the law, are generally banned from providing gifts of any value to specified state government officials.
The most important exceptions to the gift ban, at least as far as nonprofits are concerned, are:
* Informational materials: It’s perfectly okay to give public officials the reports, fact sheets, videos and other materials your organization produces to make its case on the issues. It is not okay, however, to give public official an expensive coffee-table book on the grounds that it was “informational material.”
* Plaques and other small mementos: It remains okay for groups to provide public officials with “a plaque or similar non-monetary memento.” But this must still be reported if worth more than $10.
* Food and beverages provided for immediate consumption at specified events: This exception is very specific about the kinds of events that will be appropriate. For instance, groups that invite only one or two legislators to an annual awards dinner probably cannot provide them with free food and drink.
NEW REPORTING REQUIREMENTS
Though many will have little to report, nonprofits must still comply with expanded reporting requirements. This includes:
* Filing quarterly reports with the state secretary of state — monthly if certain “reportable expenditures” are made for the benefit of public officials.
* Making sure all reports are notarized.
* Reporting large expenditures, of more than $3,000 in any 90-day period, on specified communications to the “general public” to influence legislative or administrative action. This requirement even applies to groups that aren’t registered to lobby.
For details, visit the website of the state secretary of state or contact the office by phone at 9.9.807.2000.
Rob Schofield is director of research and policy development at NC Policy Watch, a publication of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which publishes the Philanthropy Journal.