Philadelphia’s New Lobbying Law Silences Grassroots Advocacy (via David A. Ross and Associates)

Philadelphia’s New Lobbying Law Silences Grassroots Advocacy (via David A. Ross and Associates). On June 15, 2011, the City of Philadelphia’s Board of Ethics held a public meeting to hear comments and concerns about the city’s new lobbying disclosure ordinance (Regulation No. 9). Who spoke on behalf of Philadelphia’s 5,000 grassroots nonprofit organizations?  The PA Bar Association and the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce have opposed the regulations as complex, costly and burdensome. How many charities have to run afoul of this law before the city listens?

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Philadelphia’s New Lobbying Law Silences Grassroots Advocacy (via David A. Ross and Associates)

Philadelphia has over 5,000 grassroots nonprofit organizations. How many will run afoul of this new complicated and burdensome lobbying law, and how much will it cost to comply with it? Is there a solution? ABSOLUTELY.  READ MY BLOG!

Philadelphia’s New Lobbying Law Silences Grassroots Advocacy __________________________________________________________________________________________ UPDATE: On June 15, 2011, the City of Philadelphia’s Board of Ethics held a public meeting to hear comments and concerns about the city’s new lobbying disclosure ordinance (Regulation No. 9). The lobbying law itself passed in … Read More

via David A. Ross and Associates

Pennsylvania Election Overview: November 2, 2010

Tuesday, November 2nd 2010 is the “midterm” general election throughout the United States. “midterm” refers to the gubernatorial election cycle which follows the presidential election by two years, and is viewed as a referendum on the American President’s job performance. President Barack Obama (D) has spent his first two years in office mired in a recession, with record unemployment and the 7th year of a costly US and NATO-led War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. The President’s approval rating has risen in the past month by 5% to a 50% approval rating , it is yet to be determined whether riding Obama’s coat-tails will be a help or hinderance.

The purpose of this article is to share with you information and resources about the election, the candidates and the issues.  

Pennsylvania Races:  2010 is a tremendous election year for Pennsylvania as well. On Tuesday, Pennsylvanians will elect a new Governor and Lieutenant Governor, 26 of 50 State Senators, all 203 State Representatives, all 19 of its Congressional seats, and one of two US Senators. At stake is nothing less than majority control in Harrisburg and perhaps in Washington too. At the top of ticket, Pennsylvania is a battleground for the US Senate seat formerly held by long-time Senator Arlen Specter. The two candidates are Joe Sestak (D) and Pat Toomey (R) and by most accounts, are racing neck-and-neck. The latest Rasmussen poll (10/29/10) shows Republican candidate Pat Toomey leading Democrat Congressman Joe Sestak by 4 points (R50% to D46%). Last week‘s poll was similar (R48% to D46%) This race is still a toss-up and may simply come down to voter turnout. As of last week, some 2.5 million American already cast their vote.

US Senate Races: Nationwide, some 37 US Senate, seats are up for grabs. The latest Rasmussen poll shows Democrats retaining at least 48 Senate seats, Republicans at least 45, and 7 seats are considered toss-ups, including California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, PENNSYLVANIA, Washington, and West Virginia.

State Gubernatorial Races: 37 States will elect governors in this election too. The latest Rasmussen poll shows Democrats retaining 12 Governors, Republicans 28, independents 1 and 9 races are still toss-ups. Pennsylvania Governor’s race is “Leaning Republican”, but the expectation is that Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania’s current Attorney General will win handedly.

US House Races: Elections for all 435 United States House of Representatives elections will be held on Tuesday, representing all 50 US states, delegates from the District of Columbia and delegates of four of the five major US territories. Winners of this election cycle will serve in the 112th Congress which begins in January. 37 U.S. Representatives will retire at the end of their current term and 5 vacancies were filled earlier this year by special elections.  With 255 Democrat seats, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is the current Speaker of the House. With 178 seats, John Boehner (R-OH) is the Republican House Minority Leader. The party in the White House typically loses Congressional seats in a midterm election year anyway, and given the state of the economy, there is no reason to expect differently this year. Balance of power in the US House of Representatives might shift to the Republicans. Congressional Quarterly is projecting Democrats will gain at least 195 seats, Republicans at least 203. But with 37 seats too close to call, majority hangs in the balance. The Cook Political Report however, (10/26/10) raised its House forecast to “a Democratic net loss of 48 to 60 seats, with higher losses possible.” According to Cook, PA-3 Dahlkemper (D) Leans R; PA-4 Altmire (D) Leans D; PA-6 Gerlach (R) Likely R; PA-7 (Sestak) (D) [Sestak did not run for re-election but his seat is hotly contested] Leans R; PA-8 P. Murphy (D) is still a Tossup; PA-10 Carney (D) is a Tossup; PA-11 Kanjorski (D) is still a Tossup; PA-12 Critz (D) Leans D; PA-13 Schwartz (D) Solid D; PA-15 Dent (R) Likely R; PA-17 Holden (D) Likely D.  In total, 160 Republican seats and 122 Democrat seats are considered safe.

Here are the issues and endorsements of the top 2 PA Candidates for US Senate and PA Governor: 

Sestak:  Issues for US Senate Candidate Joe Sestak (D) include the Economy, HealthEducationEnergy and EnvironmentDefenseAgricultureAnimals and WildlifeEthicsGender EqualityHousingInternet and BroadbandIsraelLaborLGBTSeniorsSmall BusinessTransportationVeteransYouth, and Working Families. Sestak’s newspaper endorsements include the The Philadelphia Inquirer, ; The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, ; Philadelphia Daily News, ; The Harrisburg Patriot-NewsWilkes-Barre Times Leader, Erie Times-NewsWashington Observer-ReporterScranton Times-TribuneYork Daily Record.

Toomey: Issues for US Senate Candidate Pat Toomey(R) include: VeteransIsraelJobs & Economy, BailoutsTaxes, ; SpendingHealthcare, ImmigrationFamily & MarriageSecond AmendmentEnergy & Resources and National Security. You can also read some of these issues on Toomey’s blog. Toomey’s newspaper endorsements are hidden somewhere on his webpage. I challenge you to find them.

Corbett: Issues for Candidate for PA Governor Tom Corbett (R ) are found in his “50 ways to Rebuild PA”. and his positions on human services generally. Corbett’s Newspaper endorsements include, The Patriot News (Harrisburg, PA), The Tribune-Review (Pittsburgh, PA), The Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), The Sun Gazette (Williamsport , PA), The Altoona Mirror (Altoona, PA), The Lancaster New Era (Lancaster, PA), The Sentinel (Lewistown, PA), The Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre, PA), The Times Observer (Warren, PA), The Daily Item (Sunbury, PA), The Indiana Gazette (Indiana, PA), The Bucks County Courier Times (Bucks County, PA) and numerous associations and elected officials.  Corbett’s Lieutenant Governor would be Jim Cawley.  

Onorato: Issues for Candidate for PA Governor Dan Onorato (D) are found in his “New Vision for Pennsylvania’s Future”, or go to the website for  specific positions like Jobs & the EconomyGovernment ReformEnergy & EnvironmentHealthcare, ; Pre-K – 12 EducationHigher EducationStrong CommunitiesPublic SafetyAgricultureSeniorsDisabilities and Arts & Culture.  Read excerpts of Onorato’s newspaper endorsements. The complete list of editorials is as follows: Delaware County Daily TimesDoylestown Intelligencer, Easton Express-Times; El Hispano (No link), Erie Times-News, Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, Penn State Daily Collegian, Philadelphia Daily News; Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Tribune, Pittsburgh Courier, Pocono Record, Scranton Times-Tribune, Tri-County / Courier-Express / Leader VindicatorUniontown Herald-Standard, Washington Observer-ReporterYork Daily Record. Onorato’s Lieutenant Governor would be Scott Conklin.

Here are three candidate questionnaires to shed light on the where the candidates stand on the issues.

Common Cause PA:  On October 11, Common Cause of Pennsylvania asked PA Gubernatorial and US Senate candidates to identify their top three government reform goals and where government reform stands among the candidate’s overall priorities. Gubernatorial candidates Tom Corbett (R) and Dan Onorato (D) were asked specific questions on a lobbyist gift ban for executive branch employees, campaign contribution limits, disclosure of independent campaign expenditures, the state campaign finance database, WAMs, whistleblower protection, a constitutional convention, and a special legislative session on government reform. Read Tom Corbett’s response and Dan Onorato’s response.  US Senate candidates Joe Sestak (D) and Pat Toomey (R) were asked about their top reform priorities, such as public financing of congressional elections, disclosure of independent expenditure campaigns, changing the filibuster rules, use of earmarks, and senatorial “holds” on judicial nominees. Read Joe Sestak’s response.  Pat Toomey (R) did not respond.

The Arc of PA: The outlook for human services is not particularly positive. With respect to intellectual disabilities, we can thank the Arc of PA for their candidate questionnaire.  Pennsylvania’s Gubernatorial and US Senate candidates were asked their positions on the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), adult protective services (APS), access to affordable health care for those with pre-existing conditions, the Community Choice Act, and a number of other issues. Read the Arc of PA’s candidate questionnaire and responses [12.57 MB pdf].  There was no response from US Senate candidate [NOW SENATOR-ELECT] Pat Toomey.

David A. Ross and Associates: On October 18, David A. Ross of David A. Ross and Associates asked Joe Sestak (D), Pat Toomey (R), Tom Corbett (R) and Dan Onorato (D), if elected, in what three ways would you partner with and strengthen Pennsylvania’s manufacturing, tourism, and nonprofit sectors, to achieve your campaign goals and to improve the quality of life in Pennsylvania.  Read “Three Questions for Pennsylvania’s Candidates”. While the candidates were unresponsive to the questionnaire, they were quick to integrate some of these themes into their own campaign rhetoric. As you read the questions, ask yourself whether the candidates truly have a plan to implement their positions and make good on their promises. Without a specific plan, and stakeholder support, their promises are just empty rhetoric.

Here are some of the ISSUES and influences in this election:

The economy: The effects of the global recession are far from over. The US budget deficit (not even the federal debt) has is now topped $30 billion per day. 15 millions Americans remain unemployed and their situation will not improve any time soon. 8 million of those jobs will never return according to the Vice-President Joe Biden. Over 400,000 Americans are losing their job every month, and the president is calling for Americans to stay the course. The economy grew at only 2% in the past 3 months and at 1.7% for the 3 months prior. It would take a 5% growth rate for a year to lower the jobless rate by 1%. The US jobless rate is nearly 10%.  DO THE MATH. It will take 5 years to recover. Unemployment lasts 26 to 52 weeks, sometimes more, sometimes less, but at half to a third of a person’s salary.  That is not enough to feed a family, and their unemployment will expire before they find work.  What is Congress and the Administration doing to restore jobs? Precious little. And even less with respect to restoring American manufacturing. Every man, woman and child in America sends $3 to China every day. It’s called our trade deficit and it has been growing for nearly two decades.  During that time, America has shipped its factories, its wealth and its economy to China in exchange for cheap consumer goods. Now China is growing by an unparalleled 9% to 11% each year, while the US struggles with barely 2% economic growth and near double-digit unemployment. THIS PROBLEM MUST BE RESOLVED before it’s too late.

Foreign Policy & National Security: The single largest problem America has is China. China is on its way to becoming the wealthiest superpower in the world by 2015. You may not care about titles, but with this title goes military supremacy. Since 2009, China has increased its military spending by 7.5%, investing in nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, submarines, aircraft carriers and cyber warfare. China can now strike as far as the US territory of Guam, and challenge US aircraft carriers in the South China Sea. China’s economic boom has given the country the means to challenge the US on Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. A strong US military with unmatched technology is critical to global stability not to mention America’s very survival. Our technology will no longer be unmatched however, if China becomes wealthier. What they can’t invent, they can buy or spy. So how does the Administration plans to stem the flow of US factories, jobs and wealth to China before China becomes the next economic superpower and engages us in an arms race that we can’t afford to match?  See Jos Sestak’s speech on  foreign policy (10/4/10).

Good Government: Organizations like Common Cause of Pennsylvania focus on “good government” issues. From voter registration to counting and recording the votes, Common Cause PA is working to ensure that PA elections are more reliable and more voter-friendly. That means easier voter registration, no-fault absentee ballots, election day registration, curb-side voting for the disabled, early voting, better training for poll workers, better ballot access opportunities for independents and minor parties, and penalties for acts of voter intimidation. Unfortunately, the effects of the global recession are far from over and “good government” issues are taking a back seat to more immediate economic concerns. But how government proceeds and the solutions they chose, has as much to do with the process by which government operates as it does with feasibility of the policies they chose.

Redistricting: Bear in mind that election will have far-reaching consequences for the political rights of every Pennsylvanian. The party that gains control of Pennsylvania’s State Legislature, will control (among other things) the redrawing of Congressional districts (for their own advantage) and have an advantage in drawing lines for legislative seats. In other words, whoever draws the district lines, may determine who your State legislator will be, or at the very least, which party will dominate your community for the next decade.

Voter Intimidation: Pennsylvania has no specific law making voter intimidation illegal. If you have a question about your voter registration or poling place, or if you think someone has given you false information, threatens you, or tries to stop you from voting, call the LIVE, nationwide ELECTION PROTECTION HOTLINE, toll-free at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) or visit them online at http://www.866OurVote.org. Trained volunteers will be standing by to help you from 6:00am until the polls close at 8:00pm. It’s free, it’s nonpartisan and it’s confidential. Watch the Election Protection Hotline video. Voting is more than just a right, it’s a responsibility. So vote on November 2.  Help others get to the polls. Talk to your family about voting.  It’s critical that the voices of all Americans – including yours – be heard at the polls.  For other voting issues, visit the PA Department of State website, or VotesPA.com for a list of county contacts and county web sites or to locate your polling place. See Common Cause of PA’s ELECTION PROTECTION webpage.

Money and politics: Who was responsible for the negative campaigns. The candidates and independent groups or PACs. The landmark (or “landfill“, depending upon how you view it) US Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC (1/21/10) opened the floodgates on corporate money being used to fund political campaigns. Now large sums of previously prohibited dollars are being funneled through advocacy groups and trade associations who are not directly affiliated with the candidates in order to influence elections. Corporations are now free to pay for political advertisements — now considered “genuine issue advocacy” — so long as the funding is disclosed.  Citizens United is the “Roe v. Wade” of election law.  Scholars will be measuring its impact and debating its merits for years to come. Other funding issues are skewing Pennsylvania politics too. Pennsylvania legislators and candidates alike have received tremendous sums of money from the Natural Gas drilling industry. Read “Deep Drilling Deep Pockets” a report on the campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania, by Common Cause of PA.  visit MarcellusMoney.org for contributions to individual candidates.  According to Common Cause, this year’s $4 billion election was the most expensive in US history.  In the words of Common Cause’s new  National chairman, “we’ve never seen in American history as much money flowing to our nation’s capital. [ ] there are hundreds of millions of dollars flowing to candidates and we have no way of knowing who is providing this money at all.  [ ] when you have that much money, it is inevitably influencing, if not bribing, if not corrupting politics, [ ] people back home say to themselves: government does not work.”

Final word on “Good Government”:  Neither party has a monopoly on how best to run the myriad of government agencies that serve Pennsylvanians. Good government issues trascends partisan politics.  On this at least, we must all agree.

Other influences: President Obama as leader of the Democratic party got off to a slow start this year in supporting Democrat candidates nationwide, and in promoting the relative success of his programs, stimulus, bailouts, and their effect on America’s economic “recovery” (if there is a recovery). This may contribute as much to whether Democrats lose control in Washington and Harrisburg as the coat-tail effect itself.  Weather plays an important role in voter turnout, especially in heavily Democratic Philadelphia, where urban voters generally walk to their polling places. The weather (11/2/2010) was perfect, sunny and seasonally mild.  If anything depresses voter turnout it will have been the negative campaigns advertisements. Such brutal half-truths filing the airwaves may offer short-term gains, but undermine a winning candidate’s ability to govern after the dust settled. After this election, image repair will be needed by the President and many winning candidates.

Considering the candidates, the issues, the economy, and the general climate, the November 2, 2010 Midterm election promises nothing less than fireworks. 

Pennsylvania needs enlightened leaders who are fair, open, and honest with the Legislature and with the electorate, and who build bridges with organizations to improve the quality of life for everyone– not just for their supporters. At the same time, we need avid citizen watchdogs to expose abusive practices of awarding sweetheart deals and tax incentives to cronies and campaign contributors. If those who win Tuesday’s election continue the “old ways” of running the state (gamesmanship, cronyism, and graft), then nothing will change regardless which party is in power.  Given Pennsylvania’s disastrous economy, joblessness, poverty, hunger and a multi-billion dollar state budget deficit, PA can not afford to return to the old ways of doing business.

–by David A. Ross, J.D.

THREE QUESTIONS FOR PENNSYLVANIA’S CANDIDATES

The Scranton Times Tribune ran a news story today (10/18/10) entitled “Nonprofits fear winter coupled with high unemployment.” Leaders of nonprofits and charities in Northeast Pennsylvania announced that the coming winter coupled with growing unemployment will push the limits of their organizations. That they lack money and capacity to meet the needs of their communities is not a matter of poor management. These are sophisticated organizations. It’s the economy. Pennsylvania’s social safety net is in serious jeopardy, because unemployment is rising, new jobs are not being created, and personal wealth is barely growing for Pennsylvanians- if at all.

2010 is a critical election year in Pennsylvania. Our Governor, Lieutenant Governor, 26 State Senators, and all 203 State Representatives are up for election, as well as Pennsylvania’s 19 Congressional seats. At stake is nothing less than majority control in Harrisburg and perhaps in Washington too. At the top of ticket, Pennsylvania is a battleground for the US Senate seat formerly held by Arlen Specter. The two candidates are Joe Sestak (D) and Pat Toomey (R) and by some accounts, are racing neck-and-neck.

With only 9 days until the November 2 general election, Pennsylvanians have decisions to make — big decisions with big consequences. Whether the issue is the economy, foreign trade, the social safety net, or campaign finance reform, the candidates have positions. Some have posted their positions on their websites; others have not. One thing they all have in common. They have not provided details on HOW THEY PLAN TO ACHIEVE THEIR GOALS. Without a plan, their goals are just empty campaign promises. So the real question is…. IF YOU ASK THEM HOW THEY PLAN TO ACHIEVE THEIR GOALS, WILL THEY TELL YOU?

That’s exactly what I did. I asked them. I have spent the past 6 years identifying socio-economic problems, and working with partners (building coalitions) to develop solutions and implement those solutions. Drawing from this experience, I drafted the three questions pasted below. I have shared it with them and will continue to share it with as many people as is possible… until I get a response. Then I will post their responses so we will all know whether they really have a plan or whether it’s all hype.

SO PLEASE READ THE THREE QUESTIONS BELOW. Feel free to SEND THE QUESTIONS TO YOUR LAWMAKERS. Between tourism, nonprofits and manufacturing, we can identify solutions to improve one-third of Pennsylvania’s economy– or at least know where the candidates stand.

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(1) MANUFACTURING SECTOR

In 2008, manufacturing accounted for 14% of the Pennsylvania’s total GDP (down from 21% in 1997). In 2009, manufactured goods accounted for more than 90% of Pennsylvania’s exports (down from 95% in 2002). China is our third largest export market (up from 16th in 1999). Currently, manufacturing accounts for just 10% of Pennsylvania’s total workforce (down 40% since 1990). During this same time (20 years), overall nonfarm employment in PA increased by 8%.

Some say it would be impossible to restore Pennsylvania’s manufacturing capacity. Others say that if we do not rebuild our factories, Pennsylvania’s economy will never recover. Considering that 600,000 Pennsylvanians are unemployed, I believe that restoring Pennsylvania’s factories is critical to Pennsylvania’s future.

America needs a comprehensive plan to rebuild our domestic manufacturing capacity, starting here in Pennsylvania, and starting today. American manufacturing is critical to the long-term health of our economy, to the welfare of our people, and ultimately to the survival of our nation.

Q1: If elected to the US Senate, in what three (3) specific ways would you partner with the manufacturing sector to prevent the loss of skilled manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania and attract new skilled manufacturing jobs to Pennsylvania?

(2) NONPROFIT SECTOR

Pennsylvania is home to nearly 58,000 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organizations. From hospitals, colleges, daycare centers and clinics, to soup kitchens, social service providers and foundations, Pennsylvania’s nonprofit sector employs about 600,000 FTE workers (or 11% of the workforce in PA). Together these workers earned over $21.1 billion in wages in 2003 (or 10% percent of total wages paid in Pennsylvania). For many communities, nonprofits are also an economic engine for growth and development.

Since the recession began however, Pennsylvania’s nonprofits are facing declining contributions, decreasing revenue, and losses of government and foundation funding. Resources are dwindling, but the community’s need for the services that nonprofits provide continues to grow.

Q2: If elected to the US Senate, in what three (3) specific ways would you partner with and strengthen the nonprofit sector to achieve the goals of your campaign and improve the quality of life in our Commonwealth?

(3) TRAVEL, TOURISM AND HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY

Pennsylvania tourism is the state’s second-largest industry. Together, PA hotels, amusement parks, restaurants, ski areas, stadiums, and attractions of all types, generate $28 billion in revenue each year and pay $10 billion in wages and benefits to over 400,000 workers (or about 7% of Pennsylvania’s workforce). While these are certainly impressive numbers, tourism in Pennsylvania has room to grow. Understanding what motivates people to visit PA or employers to relocate to PA, and coordinating economic development to enhance PA tourism would improve Pennsylvania’s business climate over the long term.

Q3: If elected to the US Senate, in what three (3) specific ways would you partner with the tourism industry to improve economic growth and development?

PA Budget Negotiations Continue Without FMAP Money: Lawmakers believe they can reach agreement by Wednesday’s deadline.

PA Budget Negotiations Continue Without FMAP Money: Lawmakers believe they can reach agreement by Wednesday’s deadline. 

 

With just 3 days left (6/27/10) until Pennsylvania’s Constitutional June 30 annual budget deadline, last Friday’s (6/25/10) announcement of the loss of Pennsylvania’s FMAP money makes it highly unlikely that PA Lawmakers will pass the State’s budget on-time. Negotiations continued through the weekend. Lawmakers still believe they can make Wednesday’s budget deadline. 

FMAP Money: On June 16, 2010 Pennsylvania’s Governor Ed Rendell warned that the State would begin laying-off as many as 1,000 of its 71,000 government employees, including teachers, as early as July, 1 if the additional $850 million in federal Medicaid assistance money (FMAP) was not approved in the new Federal Job‘s Bill. The Governor was counting on that money to limit the state’s FY2010-11 budget deficit to $1.2 billion– which would otherwise have to be made up with sharp budget cuts. 

The Jobs Bill: On June 24, 2010 the US Senate failed to approve the $23 billion American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act, (H.R. 4213) known as the Jobs Bill, or the extenders package. The bill provided for federal extension of unemployment benefits to hundreds of thousands of long-term unemployed workers at a time when 15 million Americans (9.7% of the workforce) are out of work. The bill also provided other emergency stimulus measures to save jobs; protect doctors from a 21 percent cut in Medicare reimbursement rates (possibly causing them to stop serving needy patients); and provided to the states’ additional Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (FMAP) program money so the states can continue paying Medicaid for the “poorest of the poor”. 

The Democrats: For the past two weeks, Senate Democrats led by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) attempted to push the Jobs Bill through the Senate after it had been stalled there for eight weeks. Reid filed for cloture on the debate with just days before a vote. Senate Republicans rallied their minority coalition that included some moderate Democrats. A 2/3 majority (66 votes) is needed for a cloture vote to end debate (filibuster) in the Senate. On June 24, 2010 the cloture vote failed 57-41 (short by 9 votes). 

The Republicans: According to Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Democrats were using this important legislation to add tens of billions of dollars in unrelated deficit spending at a time when the national debt (not the federal deficit) has reached $13 trillion for the first time in history. This equals nearly $42,000 for every man, woman and child in America. Check out the Republican counterproposal (6/10/10).  According to an ABC report , the sense in Congress is that for the first time in decades, there is no more money.  That Congress is broke wasn’t America’s best-kept secret. I have heard State Senator Andy Dinniman announce publicly for the past three years that Washington has no money left. So is this really why Congress is using the Jobs Bill to hold the line on pay-go rules. (Pay-go rules require every new appropriation to be paid for be an existing offset within the budget. This means that your appropriation would have to come from someone else’s funding.) If this was a turning point for Congress, they are a little late. 

The Economy: Without the Jobs Bill the economic forecast is bleak. Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate for May was 9.1% — only .6% better than the national average of 9.7%. Experts fear that Pennsylvania’s unemployment will grow if 1,000 state workers are laid-off in July, if thousands of nonprofits see their State contracts and grants cut, and if 1 million of the 15 million unemployed workers nationwide lose their $310 per week long-term unemployment benefits. 

What’s next? Last week’s failure of the cloture vote on the Federal Jobs Bill means that the Jobs bill will not be moving forward.– at least not in its current form. Its most important provisions may seek passage in separate bills. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and others are now pushing for a separate bill to authorize the extension of federal unemployment insurance benefits and FMAP money for the States. This process could take weeks, if it even happens at all. States may not even get the FMAP funds they were promised if they get any at all. 

The PA State Budget: Governor Rendell’s original budget proposal for FY2010-11 (2/9/10) was $29 billion (That is $ 26.27 billion in state money plus $ 2.76 billion in ARRA money for a total of $29.03 billion). Without the $850 million FMAP money, the Governor’s budget proposal is over a billion dollars short. 

By Saturday night (6/26/10), House and Senate Democratic leaders said they would not approve a budget of less than $28.2 billion. Their plan included a $300 million increase for education. This would have required new revenue sources (tax increases). House Republican leaders were unwilling to support the 1% increase over last year’s $27.8 billion budget. Even at that level, Rendell claimed that it could lead to 1,000 teacher layoffs. 

Last week, Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, (R-Delaware) indicated that the Senate Republicans would approve a budget of $27.5 billion. Their budget proposal takes into account the actual revenue that the state has received, and NO additional “revenue enhancements“ (pronounced “tax increases“). By Saturday night (6/26/10) Senate Republican leaders were willing to go as high as $27.8 billion with no tax increase, but that required cutting a Rendell priority of $354 million additional funding for school districts. By Saturday night, only $400 million separated Republican and Democrat positions on the state budget. If the agreement between the Governor and the four legislative Caucuses leads to an on-time budget, the total state budget for FY2010-11 would likely be $27.9 billion. 

According to the Harrisburg Patriot-News Editorial Board, “$28 billion is about as high as the state budget can reasonably go. The easy revenue sources have already been tapped, the Rainy Day Fund has been depleted, and there is no appetite in the Legislature for broad-based tax increases on individuals or corporations. To further chop programs — especially in social services and environmental monitoring — at a time when so many in the state are struggling and our gas drilling industry is expanding at a breakneck pace would be unwise. Make no mistake, there still will have to be painful cuts to balance even a $28 billion budget, but to go much lower than that would be to start balancing our state’s budget in detrimental ways to our citizens.”

As of last week, there was much speculation that the state would raid $340 million of its tobacco settlement funds, which are part of a $206 billion multi-state settlement with tobacco companies to compensate for smoking-related health expenses.  While there is much satisfaction over the $261 million that the state collected from its tax amnesty program, there is also much concern that creative accounting tricks could put-off a few hundred million in debt until next year’s budget. Beyond that, cut will most likely come from nonprofit programs. 

OPEN LETTER TO ALL NONPROFITS: 

AN URGENT WARNING WAS SHARED WITH ME BY A HIGH RANKING MEMBER OF THE GOVERNOR’S STAFF. I was explaining that another budget impasse like the one we had we had last year would kill smaller nonprofits with state or county contracts or subcontracts, and exacerbate the hole in the social safety net. Once these nonprofits scale back or close their doors, the business interruption costs, interest on borrowed money, and the loss of skilled labor can not be recovered– not to mention the impact on the communities they serve. His response was poignant and extremely concerning. He said “Unless nonprofits get their butts in gear and lobby hard for revenues and against draconian funding cuts, they will be closing their doors for good.” I am not sharing this with you lightly. THE SITUATION IS SERIOUS. 

Budget Impasse: So how long will it take to pass the state budget this year? What happens if lawmakers can’t get the job done by June 30? That’s the 28 billion dollar question. Last year (2009), it took the PA legislature an additional 101 days after the June 30 Constitutional deadline to pass the state budget. For three and a half months, the State withheld billions of dollars in payments that it owed for services rendered on contracts and grants. While big agencies debated funding priorities and lobbied to secure their budget line items, thousands of smaller nonprofits that relied on this money to service state or county contracts or grants, were forced to cut services, lay-off staff, or close their doors. Counties, schools and nonprofits continued to provide vital services in the absence of state funds, but at their own expense. Unlike counties and schools however, most nonprofits are small organizations, lacking sufficient reserves to absorb the cost of late government payments on contractual obligations. Nonprofits that survived the 2009 budget impasse, discovered the hard way that bridge loans must be paid back with interest; furloughed workers may never return; and late fees and business interruption costs depleted any reserves they had left. The result was cuts to human service funding, fewer nonprofit services, and an angry electorate who lost faith in State government. 

Budget Reforms: The 2009 Budget Impasse demonstrated that the only sure way to prevent another impasse is to reform the budget process.  Read Budget Process Reforms Can Prevent a Budget Impasse.

Philadelphia’s New Lobbying Law Silences Grassroots Advocacy

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Storm clouds gather of Philadelphia's City Hall

Storm clouds gather over Philadelphia's City Hall

UPDATE (6/17/11): On June 15, 2011, the City of Philadelphia’s Ethics Board held a public meeting to hear comments on the city’s proposed Regulation No. 9 of the City’s recent lobbying ordinance. The ordinance was unanimously approved by the City’s Ethics Board in June 2010, but the registration and reporting requirements were not scheduled to take effect until July 1, 2011.

Now, just days before the proposed regulations would take effect, Philadelphia’s Bar Association and Chamber of Commerce are expressing serious concerns. While the Bar Association objects to lobbying regulations of lawyers that are engaged in the practice of law, the Chamber of Commerce objects to the regulations’ restrictions on small businesses and individuals.  Even the Committee of Seventy, one of the chief proponents of the lobbying law, offered amendments to both the regulations and the underlying law at the June 15th meeting. The Philadelphia law and regulations were drafted using the Pennsylvania law and regulations as a template.  Not surprisingly, the arguments against the Philadelphia law and regulations are the exact same arguments that I and others used (with some success) to oppose the state’s lobbying law and regulations. Philadelphians may have to learn these lesson the hard way.

[UPDATE: (7/29/11)] Due to these objections and many others, the Philadelphia Ethics Board did NOT vote to approve the proposed regulations. Instead, the Board stated that they expect to schedule another meeting within several weeks to review the public testimony and take final action on the regulations.

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THERE IS STILL MUCH THEY HAVEN’T HEARD.  It’s your right to petition city hall, to talk to your local government official and to engage in grassroots advocacy! Lobbying laws that are vague, complicated, or costly to comply with, chill advocacy rights for small businesses, smaller charities and average taxpayers.

URGE THE BOARD TO (1) raise the registration and reporting threshold to $5,000 per reporting period; (2) lower the registration fee to $100; (3) simplify requirements for tracking expenses; (4) lower the penalties to $50 per late day, maximum $2,000; and (5) reduce the ban on lobbying from 5 years to 2 years.

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Read my updated ANALYSIS below.

Also read the following:

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ANALYSIS (Updated 6/17/11)

On June 2, 2010, the City of Philadelphia added its name to a growing list of American cities that have enacted lobbying registration and disclosure laws. After watching New York and Pittsburgh enact lobbying laws, Philadelphia followed suit, but with a much stricter law — based on the current PA State law enacted in 2006. City officials hoped that this new law would help end corruption by their own City Council members.  By July 1, 2011, citizens, lobbyists and organizations seeking to influence Philadelphia city government must formally register with the City and disclose the how much they spend lobbying what issues and to whom. Regulations to carry out this new law will be promulgated shortly. Unfortunately, Philadelphia’s law as it was enacted, has the potential to do more harm than good.

Lobbying laws help. Generally speaking, lobbying laws are helpful. Lobbying laws improve transparency and accountability from our elected officials. They put on record who is influencing government policy decisions, on what issues, and how much they are spending to influence those decisions. This increased level of transparency in city government allays anxieties about undue influence by special interests. Elected officials also benefit from lobbying disclosure because it lets them know “where the hits are coming from”, so they can respond strategically. Organizations like the Committee of Seventy in Philadelphia and Common Cause of Pennsylvania (based in Harrisburg) are the chief proponents of lobbying registration and disclosure laws.  And to be fair, Common Cause has been very effective on this issue, in the name of preserving Democracy.  However, the questions to ask, are how much information is truly necessary, for whom, for what purpose, and at what cost?

Am I a lobbyist? You may be a “lobbyist” under Philadelphia’s new ordinance and not even know it. If the City’s Ethics Board approves the regulations (which could be as soon as July 1, 2011, you may need to register with the city, track your communications and expenses, and publicly disclose this information online. Still skeptical? Read the law.

The Philadelphia law. The Philadelphia lobbying law requires annual registration and quarterly expense reporting online by any person organization or business that spends more than $10,000 per year ($2,500 per calendar quarter) lobbying Philadelphia City government.  Lobbying is defined as any effort to influence legislative or administrative action of city officials or employees including direct or indirect communication, incurring office expenses; and providing any gift, hospitality, transportation or lodging to a city official.  The city law defines “Lobbying” as direct and indirect communications, as well as any gifts, hospitality or transportation expenses given to city officials. “Direct Communication” is any effort, written, oral or by any other medium, made by a lobbyist or principal, directed to a city official or employee, the purpose or foreseeable effect of which is to influence legislative or administrative action. “Indirect Communication” is any communication to the general public for the purpose of disseminating or initiating a Communication. Indirect communication includes mailings, telephone banks, print or electronic media advertisements, billboards, publication or education campaigns. When calculating the value of direct and indirect communications (for purposes of disclosure) the value of personnel and office expenses used to support these activities must be included. Reportable office expenses include office space, equipment or supplies. “Personnel Expenses” include any salaries or other compensation such as benefits, vehicle allowances, bonuses or travel expenses paid to a lobbyist, staff or consultant for research, monitoring, public relations, strategic or technical support, or clerical and administrative support. So you can see from these definitions that this law is much broader than the traditional federal definition of lobbying.

Who is exempt?  While the Philadelphia law is broad, the law provides a few exemptions. Individuals who spend less than $2,500 and less than 20 hours lobbying in a calendar quarter (3 months), need not register, track, or disclose their communications. These individuals are exempt from lobbying registration because their lobbying is “incidental” to their regular employment. “Incidental” is measured using a good faith prorated estimate of the value of time that the employee devoted to lobbying during that period. That said (which is a mouthful in itself), the value of the employee’s time and activities must still be reported under the employer’s lobbying disclosure, if the employer is required to report.

What’s wrong with the law? Philadelphia’s new law is based on the current State lobbying law. By using an existing law as a template, Philly also inherits the problems inherent in that other law. The state law took approximately 4 years to write, and another three years to develop regulations. By most accounts, it is still a “work in progress”.  Now Philadelphia’s lobbying law has the same problems: (1) Threshold is too low; (2) Registration fee is too high; (3) Compliance is too complex; (4) Penalties are too severe; and (5) Banning lobbying for up to 5 years is extreme.  Taken as a whole, Philadelphia’s new lobbying registration and disclosure law chills advocacy right of small businesses, smaller charities (thousands of them) and individuals (average taxpayers without “big money backers”).

Here’s what’s wrong with the law:

   (1) Threshold is too low. The Philadelphia law, requires registration and disclosure if a person expends over $2,500 per calendar quarter (or $10,000 per year) communicating with city government officials or employees. This is identical to the state’s threshold. However, the devil is in the details. It captures all direct communications as well as grassroots activity, research time prorated hourly, staff support time, and other overhead such as computer use, telephone rental, and office square footage. When calculating all of this together, a registrant reaches $2,500 very quickly– especially in Philadelphia where transportation, parking and rental space can be pricey.

  (2) Registration fee is too high. Initially the State law set the registration at $100 for a two-year registration period. A regulation increasing the registration fee to $200 for a two-year period was just approved by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission on June 3, 2010. The Philadelphia law however, carries a $500 per year registration fee –nearly 5 times the state fee. This is basically pay to play, and is beyond the reasonable means of the average person.

  (3) Compliance is too complex. Compliance requires specific tracking of every phone call, email and minute researching the issues, determining which category in which to report these activities, as well as compiling and filing quarterly expense reports and retaining source documents for 4 years. Each one of these tasks takes a substantial amount of time, adds burden, and adds cost.

  (4) Penalties are too severe. Any person who violates any provision of the new law or who makes a material misstatement or omissions in any filing could receive a civil fine of up to $2,000 for each violation. Any person in violation of the law could forever be disqualified from holding any elected or appointed City office or employment with the City, its agencies, authorities, boards or commissions.

* In 2011, a bill was proposed in the PA State House to significantly increase penalties for material nondisclosure under the state’s lobbying law. Read: (2/22/11) New PA Lobbying Penalties Bill Would Chill Grassroots Advocacy, for a clear example (albeit at the state level) of how the threat of high penalties could shut down grassroots advocacy.

  (5) Lobbying ban is extreme.  Additionally, any person in violation of the new law may be punished by debarment from any contract with the City for up to three years and prohibited from lobbying for up to five years. Being banned from lobbying for financial compensation for up to 5 years is excessive.

A more detailed analysis of the law is posted on PAGR’s website.

The Result. Philadelphia’s new lobbying registration and reporting law chills advocacy rights for small businesses, charities and average citizens.  This law silences advocacy of mom & pop shops, the handicapped, the homeless, and the charitable nonprofit organizations that assist them. The $500 registration fees and is just too expensive for small grass roots organizations, charities and individuals trying to make a difference. Hundreds of small Philadelphia charities operate on the front lines of society’s problems, possess specialized knowledge and experience. These critical grassroots organizations will be less willing to work with the City to innovate solutions, and will simply withdraw from the public arena. After all, why would they want to put themselves on the hook for potentially thousands of dollars in fines and negative publicity for a vague law that is open to multiple interpretations and even abuse of authority? When penalties are so steep that they actually inhibit compliance, the Citizens of Philadelphia lose.

HERE’S MY SOLUTION:

(1) raise the registration and reporting threshold to $5,000 per reporting period;
(2) lower the registration fee to $100;
(3) simplify requirements for tracking expenses;
(4) lower the penalties to $50 per late day, maximum $2,000; and
(5) reduce the ban on lobbying from 5 years to 2 years.

Contact David Ross at davidross@davidarossandassociates.com.

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About David A. Ross, J.D. Since 2006, David Ross has been nearly a lone voice advocating that strong lobbying laws silence advocacy of small businesses, grass roots organizations, charities and individuals trying to improve their communities. As Public Policy Officer of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, Ross organized coalitions, drafted and submitted comments for the record, testified on proposed regulations, and negotiated with members of the State’s Lobbying Regulations Committee to improve the proposed regulations.  Eventually, the Regulations Committee acknowledged Ross’ concerns, but determined that the Committee was limited in their ability to solve the problem through the regulations.  Instead, they felt that the underlying law needed to be amended to take into account the needs of smaller businesses and nonprofits that engage in grassroots advocacy.  Ross’ work continues at the advocacy consulting firm, David A. Ross and Associates. Contact David Ross at davidross@davidarossandassociates.com.

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