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February 1, 2016 Q&A

Lobbying in CT has become a ‘24/7’ business

Q&A talks about changes in the lobbying industry with Jay Malcynsky, co-founder and managing partner of Gaffney, Bennett and Associates Inc. in New Britain.

Q: You're a veteran lobbyist with 30 years experience at the State Capitol. What are some of the biggest challenges to being a lobbyist now as compared to the 1980s when you started?

A: Much has changed over the past 30-plus years. One of the biggest catalysts was the construction of the legislative office building, which ushered in an era of increasing numbers of staff and resources for individual legislators. More resources translated into more legislative business. Consequently, being in the legislature has become more and more demanding of your time.

Legislators are nearly full time today. Not only do they meet in formal session for four to six months per year, but there are often additional special sessions. Additionally, lawmakers are serving on task forces, blue-ribbon commissions, study groups, special commissions, etc., all of which meet throughout year.

As a lobbyist you need to follow the whole process and participate in those additional activities on behalf of your clients. It makes the responsibilities and demands on your time more and more significant. A lobbyist who also practices law or runs another business is almost unheard of today. It's a 24/7, 365-day endeavor.

There are also fewer and fewer people that can afford the time to hold down another career outside employment and also function effectively as a legislator. The rigors of being a legislator are too demanding.

Q: What's your perception of lobbying laws in Connecticut? Are they difficult to follow? Do they hinder your ability to practice your profession in any way?

A: The lobbying business has become more heavily regulated with increasingly comprehensive laws and regulations governing the activities of lobbyists and their clients. Alongside these new ethics laws are very limiting and complicated guidelines restricting lobbyists' participation in the electoral process and campaign financing.

Putting aside whether you agree with the rational for new laws and regulations, which I do, they have the effect of adding another layer of required time and effort (to ensure compliance) in an increasingly demanding climate. Obviously, the ramifications for not following the rules can be severe, so you have to take compliance very seriously.

Q: What will be some of the top issues in the short session starting Feb. 3?

A: Unfortunately, I think the budget and the fiscal concerns facing our state will dominate the discussions at the Capitol in 2016. There will be potential adjustments to the budget, discussions of more cuts in spending, maybe looking at changes to the tax system, etc. Hopefully, the state's economy will continue to rebound and provide relief from those discussions.

Transportation will continue to be top of mind, given the recent work of the finance task force and Governor Malloy's prioritization of that issue. Making Connecticut “business friendly” will be a constant refrain.

Q: The lobbyist registration threshold has increased to $3,000 from $2,000, meaning a person who receives or spends $3,000 or more for lobbying activities must register as a lobbyist. Does this change have much of an impact on professional lobbying?

A: I don't believe there will be a big impact with that change. There may be a few less people or entities that have to register their activities, but if you are involved in a significant issue at the Capitol, it doesn't take long to reach the $3,000 threshold.

Q: Also interesting is a new law that redefines lobbying expenditures. The cost of transporting members, shareholders and employees to and from a specific site, like a State Capitol rally, no longer has to be considered an expenditure. Does this give an unfair advantage to large special-interest groups like unions?

A: Unions are only one of a number of organized groups that bring large numbers of people to the Capitol to lobby. As you mentioned, shareholders, employees, associations (package store owners, small business organizations, Realtors, doctors and hospital employees, etc.) employ the tactic of organizing their members to come to rallies, hearings and meetings as a show of force. They will continue to do so whether they have to report it or not (depending on whether they hit the $3,000 threshold).

Q: What are your thoughts on exempting officials and employees of Connecticut's quasi-public agencies from the term lobbyist? It seems as if they are doing the same job as lobbyists. Is it just a semantic distinction, or does it give public authorities a leg up?

A: On the one hand you could say that a lobbyist is a lobbyist; whether they work for a nonprofit, union, bank or state agency. Having said that, individuals that are advocating on behalf of government agencies and public policymakers probably should be afforded somewhat different treatment under the rules. Certainly, everyone at the Capitol knows the difference between information coming from a state agency or quasi-public agency, and a private business or commercial enterprise advocating for their very narrow interests.n

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