Advocating in Missouri? You may be a Lobbyist

On November 28, 2018, an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Calzone v. Missouri Ethics Commission, upheld the Missouri statute that states a person does not need to receive compensation or make gifts to legislators (or their staff) in order to be required to register as a lobbyist. Effectively, volunteers for a nonprofit in Missouri may be considered lobbyists.

The state’s definition of lobbyists includes, among others, anyone who influences legislation (or other official action of the Missouri house or general assembly) and is designated as a lobbyist by a person, nonprofit corporation, association or other entity. It requires that lobbyists register each year that they plan to engage in lobbying activities, pay an annual $10 filing fee, and submit forms that include reports to the state (up to 14 a year). The court found that even if an individual was not paid, if they were determined to be ‘designated’ by a nonprofit to lobby, they would be subject to these reporting obligations. Accordingly, a member responding to a nonprofit’s email encouraging them to contact their legislator or an individual participating in a nonprofit’s lobby day could be subject to the same disclosure requirements as a paid corporate lobbyist in Missouri.

Allen Dickerson, Legal Director of the Institute for Free Speech, one of Ron Calzone’s representatives, said that “[t]he Court’s decision threatens to treat every Boy Scout troop, union, or trade association member who schedules a day with legislators as a registered lobbyist. Where no money is involved, there is no basis for treating a private citizen like a professional influence peddler. The Court’s opinion sadly takes us further down the path of regulating even small-scale, volunteer political activity. This path can only lead to the professionalization of our politics and a retreat from citizen engagement.”

However, there is hope. On Monday, January 28, 2018, the Eighth Circuit decided to rehear Calzone v. Missouri Ethics Commission. The argument is likely to be heard in April, with a (potentially) different ruling following shortly after.

If you’re an advocate in Missouri, or just someone who is concerned about the overregulation and suppression of free speech, watch this space for updates and check out the Institute for Free Speech’s case page here.