Two weeks before the city's new lobbying disclosure ordinance is scheduled to take effect, the Philadelphia Bar Association says the regulations go much farther than they should and wants lawyers to be clearly exempted.
"It regulates conduct that most people would not consider lobbying," the association's chancellor, Rudolph Garcia, said Wednesday after testifying before the city Board of Ethics.
"To me, lobbying is where someone's trying to influence policy," he continued, "not where someone's trying to . . . deal with a dispute or get a permit or do anything that people do interacting with the city on a day-to-day basis."
City Council passed the ordinance unanimously last June, requiring lobbyists and their firms to register with the city and file quarterly reports on their clients and expenses trying to influence the city government.
The legislation defines lobbying broadly, as any effort "to influence legislative action or administration action."
But registration and disclosure would be required only from those who did it for money or other "economic consideration." Individuals who spend less than 20 hours or $2,500 in a three-month period would be exempt.
The Board of Ethics, already responsible for enforcing the city's campaign-finance laws, was given additional duties to run the lobbying disclosure program. Its initial lobbying regulations, running 28 pages, drew more than 50 people to a hearing Wednesday afternoon.
Both the Philadelphia Bar Association and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce were critical of the program, suggesting it would be a burden for small businesses and others dealing with the city.
Garcia, who became chancellor in January, said he had been unaware of the ordinance until a couple weeks ago. He contended that lawyers should be exempted because the regulations would require lawyer-lobbyists to identify their clients, violating the Rules of Professional Conduct promulgated by the state Supreme Court.
A similar argument derailed the state legislature's first attempt at lobbyist regulation in 2002. The Supreme Court changed its rules in 2003 to permit lawyer-lobbyists to comply with disclosures required by state law or regulations, but not municipal ordinances, Garcia said.
The nonprofit Committee of Seventy government watchdog group urged the Board of Ethics to postpone enforcement of the ordinance until 2012, providing more time to clarify and publicize the rules.
The board expects to schedule another meeting within several weeks to review the public testimony and take final action on the regulations.
Delays in developing software will postpone electronic registration of lobbyists at least until late July. The first set of quarterly disclosures won't be due until October.