Introduction

In 1972, the voters of Washington State adopted Initiative 276 by an overwhelming majority, 72% of the vote.  That initiative, commonly known today as the Public Disclosure Law, demands that the people of this state be informed about the sources and amount of funds spent attempting to influence state decision makers.  The law is administered by the five-member Public Disclosure Commission with the assistance of a small, full-time staff. 

The Public Disclosure Law is comprehensive and specific.  Also, with respect to the authority of public entities to lobby state legislators, legislative staff members and state agency personnel, the law is restrictive.  That is, representatives of public entities may only spend public dollars for statutorily approved lobbying activities. 

The law applies to all state and local public entities that lobby at the state level, including individual state agencies, each state-funded university or college, and any county, city, town, municipal corporation, quasi-municipal corporation and special purpose district (e.g., school, port, water, sewer, fire, library, hospital, and public utility districts). 

All state and local public agencies that lobby at the state level are subject to the law's lobbying expenditure restrictions.  These agencies must also periodically report their lobbying expenditures, unless they undertake activity that is not reportable, or they don't "lobby" as that term is defined for public agencies.

Definitions - RCW 42.17A.005

Lobby & Lobbying:

Attempting to influence the passage or defeat of any legislation by the legislature of the state of Washington, or the adoption or rejection of any rule, standard, rate, or other legislative enactment of any state agency under the state Administrative Procedure Act, chapter 34.05 RCW.

Neither lobby nor lobbying includes an association’s or other organization’s act of communicating with the members of that association or organization. 

Legislation:

Bills resolutions, motions, amendments, nomination, and other matters pending or proposed in either house of the state legislature, and includes any other matter that may be subject of action by either house or any committee of the legislature and all bills and resolutions that, having passed both houses, are pending approval by the governor.

Disclosure Basics

  • Agencies may only spend public dollars to conduct legally authorized lobbying.
  • Agencies may not use public resources to support or oppose an effort to get an initiative before the legislature.
  • Agencies may lobby for passage or defeat of initiatives once they are before the legislature.
  • Agencies must keep detailed records concerning the amount of time employees spend lobbying, what issues were lobbied, and what lobbying expenditures were incurred.
  • L-5 lobbying reports are filed quarterly be agencies.  An agency does not file the L-5 for a quarter if no lobbying occurred, unless the agency has a contract lobbyist on retainer.  Instead of filing quarterly reports, any agency or lobbyist for an agency may elect to register and report as provided RCWs 42.17A.600, 42.17A.610, 42.17A.615, and 42.17A.630 after first notifying the PDC. 
  • Each agency head should designate one person to be in charge of compiling information and completing the L-5 reports.  This designee should have the authority to require cooperation from departments, divisions and units within the agency whose expenditures are included in the report.  The agency head remains accountable for that agency's complete compliance with the law.

Subagencies

A subagency or department that has independent authority to expend public funds for lobbying may file a separate L-5 report, so long as the subagency gives written notice that it will file separate L-5 reports to the PDC and its parent agency.  After this notice is provided, the department, bureau, board, commission, etc. has the responsibility to file its own quarterly reports.  For example, this change would allow the King County Prosecutor's Office to file its own report rather than having its lobbying expenditures included in one consolidated report filed by King County.