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Secretary of state: Goldwater Institute attorneys ought to have registered as lobbyists – TucsonSentinel.com

The
Secretary of State’s Office found reasonable cause that the Goldwater
Institute, a Phoenix libertarian think tank and litigation center,
violated a law requiring lobbyists to register with the state.

Sambo Dul, the state elections director for Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, referred the matter to the Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday.

Dul’s
findings came in response to a complaint filed by an attorney with the
lobbying and consulting firm HighGround, which clashed with Goldwater
Institute over the issue of fees that Phoenix imposed on ride-hailing
companies like Uber and Lyft that operate at Sky Harbor International
Airport.

Jeff
Kros, an attorney at HighGround, filed a complaint with the secretary
of state in February arguing that two Goldwater Institute employees,
Jonathan Riches and Christina Sandefur, should have to register as
authorized lobbyists because they testified in legislative committees in
favor of a bill that would have barred cities from imposing additional fees on ride-hailing services
that operate at airports. HighGround represents the City of Phoenix and
the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, both of which opposed the bill.

State
law defines lobbying as “attempting to influence the passage or defeat
of any legislation by directly communication with any legislator.” A
designated lobbyist is the person who is the “single point of contact”
for an entity that engages in lobbying, while an authorized lobbyist is
any other person who lobbies for that entity.

The
Goldwater Institute has long been an active player at the Capitol, and
its employees testify frequently in committees. But the organization
only has one person registered as a lobbyist with the secretary of
state’s office, and it contends that people like Riches and Sandefur
don’t need to register because they fall under various exemptions.

However,
Dul concluded that none of the exemptions applied, and said Riches and
Sandefur should have registered as authorized lobbyists for the
Goldwater Institute.

The
Goldwater Institute argued that Riches and Sandefur were testifying as
experts on the issues at hand, and therefore fell under a lobbyist
registration exemption for people who testify to provide technical
information or answer technical questions. But Dul rejected that claim.

“Based
on the content of their testimony, Mr. Riches and Ms. Sandefur were not
acting in the capacity of individuals who provide technical
information, but rather that of policy advocates urging legislators to
adopt a desired position,” Dul wrote.

State
law exempts “natural persons” who speak only for themselves from
registering as lobbyists. And even though Riches and Sandefur registered
as supporters of the bill representing themselves, they identified
themselves in their testimony with their titles at the Goldwater
Institute and repeatedly referenced “we” or “our” position on the
legislation.

While
there is an exemption for lawyers who are representing clients, Dul
found that Riches and Sandefur, both of whom are attorneys, were not
actually representing clients when they testified. And though there’s an
exemption for members of an association, she concluded that the
exemption wasn’t applicable in this case.

And
Dul rejected the Goldwater Institute’s argument that requiring it to
register employees who testify in legislative committees as lobbyists
would infringe on its First Amendment freedom of expression or its right
to participate in government.

“In
this case, requiring the Goldwater Institute to list employees as
lobbyists before those employees appear before committees is minimally
intrusive, and would do nothing to limit their access to the committees
or the ability to communicate their desired message,” Dul wrote.

Dul
noted that, in order to register additional employees as lobbyists, an
organization such as the Goldwater Institute that is already registered
with the secretary of state need only fill out an online form and submit
it within five days of the lobbying activity.

Kros was pleased with the secretary of state’s findings.

“All
we think is everybody should follow the same rules,” he said, echoing a
complaint that some lobbyists at the Capitol have voiced about the
Goldwater Institute for years.

The Goldwater Institute disagreed with Dul’s findings and is still reviewing them, spokeswoman Jennifer Tiedemann told Arizona Mirror.
Tiedemann said the nonprofit organization engages in policy analysis,
education and litigation, and its employees spend the bulk of their time
developing and analyzing policy and litigating cases.

“We
have one employee who lobbies for Goldwater, and she is registered. On
rare occasions, other staffers come to the Capitol at her request to
provide expert testimony, but they are not lobbyists. And, of course,
none of these employees are making lobbying expenditures, which is the
primary purpose of the lobbying registration statutes,” Tiedemann said.

The
Attorney General’s Office confirmed that it received Dul’s referral,
which will be handled by its governmental accountability unit. Attorney
General Mark Brnovich worked for the Goldwater Institute from 2003-2005.
Spokesman Ryan Anderson said Brnovich won’t be involved in the
investigation, and noted that the attorney general has clashed several
times with the Goldwater Institute in recent years.

If
the attorney general finds that the Goldwater Institute must register
its employees and it fails to do so, it could face a fine of up to
$1,000. Knowingly violating the lobbyist registration requirement is a
class one misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine
of up to $2,500.

The
Goldwater Institute has long resisted calls to register its employees
as lobbyists. It registered one person for the first time in 2011, but declined a request by then-Secretary of State Ken Bennett to register more of its employees.
Over the past decade, there have been times when the institute had
multiple employees registered as lobbyists at the same time. Currently,
only Jenna Bentley, the organization’s director of government affairs,
is registered as a lobbyist.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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