October 14, 2011

South Florida Sun-Sentinel
That’s what Richard Kaplan, mayor of the South Florida town of Lauderhill, population 67,000 or so, tells Sun-Sentinel reporter Brittany Wallman based on his reading of a new code of ethics for city officials in Broward County. He wants reporters to register with the city as lobbyists and says this will probably restrict access to him. Wallman’s response: “That is ludicrous and perhaps purposely so.” Contained within Kaplan’s emails is a compliment: He thinks Wallman plays it pretty straight.

Some of the passages from the email exchange follow.


Under the Law of Unintended Consequences, it appears that your newspaper, the Sun-Sentinel, is not only a contractor but may be considered a lobbyist, as well as its editors and the reporters. Therefore, until this is clarified, I will be needing all reporters and others from the paper who contact me for information to file whatever is required as a lobbyist to the City of Lauderhill before I can communicate further.

Reporters can come to meetings and write about what happens there. There is an exception to that, but that is about it as far as I can see. …

Though reporters do not necessarily consider what they do is lobbying, their work is provided to the editors who use their research to write editorials. Editors do try to influence the final decision making indirectly (which is communication by an means) which is lobbying according to the new law as I see it. It is this understanding that your research will be used in lobbying activities by editors that pay you, that I believe may include reporters in as lobbyist. I just don’t want to risk the situation. …

Wallman’s response:

Well of course that is ludicrous and probably purposefully so.

Reporters are not lobbyists and I would urge you to read the definition in the law. We are not “retained” or “employed” “principally to lobby” on behalf of another “person or entity,” (quoting from the ordinance definition of lobbyist). …

I certainly won’t be filling out any paperwork in Lauderhill. …


You may be right, but I believe there is enough there to question it, and it is a problem at least to me. … I am already taking limiting steps to implement these changes. Honestly, it will restrict access to me and will have a chilling effect.

I may agree that you don’t lobby, but those that employ you use what you research that I believe does qualify for lobbying. And the language of the code is so broad that it can capture it.

Lobbying means communication by any means (which includes newspapers or through others), from a lobbyist (which could be an editor or the newspaper), regarding an item that will foreseeable be decided by the final decision making authority (the city or county), which communication seeks to influence, convince or persuade (which is what editorial opinions precisely try to do, and some reporters (present company excluded)). Lobbyist is someone who is retained to lobby on behalf of that individual or entity (the Sun-Sentinel). If an editor or the Sun-Sentinel itself is in fact a lobbying organization, then the employees of that organization who help collect information to fashion an editorial could themselves be considered lobbyist. …

The 14 comments on the post so far are evenly split on the issue.

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Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens,…
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