On July 31, 2013, a former Conservative staffer, Andrew Skaling, pled guilty to failing to register as a consultant lobbyist as required by the federal Lobbying Act. This is the first conviction under the Lobbying Act since the law was enacted in 1989. Since the investigation into Skaling’s lobbying activities began in May 2012, at least three more cases have been referred to the RCMP for investigation.
Skaling was retained by a registered charity “to use his past political experience, his connections and close relationship with federal government officials” to help the charity seek accreditation and federal funding for its smoking cessation program. Although there was no evidence of meetings with any federal public officials, Skaling was paid $33,900 by the charity. Skaling told the director of the charity on three separate occasions that he had registered as a lobbyist, but he never did. Skaling was fined $7,500 for failing to register under the Lobbying Act.
Skaling’s conviction is a reminder for lobbyists and the organizations who hire such consultants to communicate with government entities of the requirement to register as a lobbyist. The Lobbying Act requires consultant lobbyists to register with the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying within 10 days of being retained to communicate or arrange meetings with federal public office holders regardless of whether they undertake any actual lobbying activities. When charities make representations, either directly or through a third party, to an elected representative or public official, they may be required to register as a lobbyist. For a summary of the Federal rules on lobbying, see our article “Charities, Politics and Lobbying”. Organizations must also adhere to the applicable provincial laws on lobbying.
The Lobbying Act identifies two types of lobbyists, consultant lobbyists and in-house lobbyists. Organizations that employ in-house lobbyists – i.e., employees who spend a certain percentage of their time on lobbying activities – are required to be registered by their senior corporate officer. When an organization engages a third party consultant lobbyist, the consultant is required to register. We recommend that organizations check that their consultant is complying with federal and provincial lobbying laws.
Penalties for contravention of the federal Lobbying Act can be significant. A summary conviction for failure to register can be as high as $50,000 or up to six months imprisonment, while the maximum penalty for indictable offences under the Act is a $200,000 fine or two years imprisonment.
The lawyers in Miller Thomson LLP’s Charities and Not-for-Profit Group can assist charities and not-for-profit organizations to understand and comply with the applicable federal rules and requirements.