REQUESTED BY: David L. Piester, Director, Legal Services of Southeast Nebraska
QUESTION: Is a lawyer, employed by a legal aid organization, when engaging in lobbying activities other than appearing before a legislative committee and setting forth for whom he appears, required to register as a lobbyist for each legal aid "client" served in a lobbying capacity . . . and accordingly file monthly reports for both himself and each such "client"?
The principal in such a situation is the legal aid organization, namely, Legal Services of Southeast Nebraska, a private, non-profit corporation, and therefore registration as a lobbyist would only have to be for Legal Services of Southeast Nebraska as principal, and not for each individual legal aid client. Accordingly, the monthly reports would only be for the lawyer as lobbyist and Legal Services of Southeast Nebraska as principal.
In the request for advisory opinion, we are advised that most of the lawyer's lobbying activities consist of appearances before legislative committees. In such a case, Section 49-1434(3)(b) provides that a lobbying registration is not required so long as he discloses whom he represents or for whom he appears.
We are further advised in the request for advisory opinion that the lawyer contends that his lobbying, whether it be before legislative committees or by reason of other lobbying activity which may be subject to registration, is on behalf of the individual clients who qualify for legal aid services. Apparently this contention is based on certain Federal regulations in effect prohibiting the legal aid organization from lobbying on its own behalf. Nevertheless, the so-called legal aid client or clients do not provide any funds for lobbying purposes, i.e. funds that might be involved in lobbying such as expenditures authorized by Section 49-1490. Such funds including an allocation of the lawyer's salary pursuant to Section 49-1480(3) and 49-1493(1)(e) are paid by the legal aid organization.
Even though the relationship of the lawyer and the legal aid client may be viewed for litigation or legal advice purposes as an attorney-client relationship and perhaps even for purposes of lobbying, it is pursuant to the authority of the legal aid organization that he so lobbies, and such lobbying would be a part of the regular duties of his employment by the legal aid organization. See Section 49-1434(1)(2).
Under these circumstances, the Commission takes the position that the lawyer is a lobbyist for the legal aid organization and not the individual clients thereof. He is engaging in the practice of promoting or opposing legislation for another, namely, the legal aid organization, even though the legal aid organization itself may not have a position for or against specific legislation but in effect takes such a position simply by reason of its nature to provide legal services to others regardless of what position its own board of directors or membership would take on a given matter.
We recognize that an issue is raised as to whether Legal Services of Southeast Nebraska must register as a lobbyist for each individual legal aid client served thereby with respect to lobbying. However, until further order of the Commission, we take the position that it is not required to so register.