PR Council says New York State ethics board is clueless on redefinition of PR as lobbying

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The industry body said this week that new rules that require political PR firms to register as lobbyists show state bureaucrats just don't understand the communications business

ALBANY, NY — The PR Council isn’t mincing words about the decision by New York State regulators on Tuesday to require some firms to register as lobbyists, saying the body simply doesn’t understand what PR firms do.  

The industry body voiced its opposition on Tuesday to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics’ 10-3 vote to treat political consultants’ contact with members of the press as lobbying.

"The opinion issued reflects a complete lack of understanding of the role of public relations consultants and their relationships with the press," said PR Council president and CEO Renee Wilson, who took on the group’s top job earlier this month.

Media and civil-liberties organizations have also opposed the measure. The governor’s office has told media outlets that it will examine the ruling. It is also unclear how such a regulation, which would require consultants to file bimonthly reports, would be enforced.

The Tuesday vote requires all PR consultants and their clients to disclose communication they have with the media and government officials in the state, as lobbyists have to do. The Joint Commission’s stance is that agencies or consultants can influence public officials via their interaction with the media. It proposed the guidelines in the fall and accepted comments through December, some of which were vehemently opposed to the measure.

Wilson said the advisory opinion overestimates the ability of consultants or professional communicators to influence the media.

"Public relations professionals who seek to stimulate press coverage on behalf of their clients can provide journalists with information, opinions, and access, but they cannot control what will actually be covered by the press, how, and when," she said. Wilson added that PR pros already disclose to journalists when they are working on behalf of a client.

Tuesday’s vote took place as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers are debating how to strengthen the state’s ethics laws after the convictions of former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

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