For the first time, Boston municipal lobbyists are required to register their work with City Hall
For the first time in Boston’s history, anyone attempting to do business with the council or the administration will have to register their work with the city clerk’s office as lobbyists.
The new rules went into effect on Tuesday, although the city has established a 10-day grace period for registration, said City Clerk Maureen Feeney. Those who do not register could face a fine of up to $300, according to a city ordinance that was passed last year.
The ordinance, which had been years in the making, had been a compromise between Mayor Martin J. Walsh and city councilors amid concerns that the city had no mechanism to regulate lobbyists in City Hall. Previously, the sole requirement was for anyone doing business with the City Council to file a letter with the clerk’s office, but the ordinance was not enforced, and was rarely followed.
The new regulations are intended to make public those who have been advocating for policy changes, especially at a time when the city has been regulating burgeoning industries, such as cannabis businesses, short-term rentals like Airbnb, and ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.
Walsh first proposed city lobbying regulations in 2016 following a Globe story that chronicled the close access that a Somerville lawyer, Sean T. O’Donovan — the former law partner of city corporation counsel Eugene L. O’Flaherty — had to administration members to pitch products sold by companies he represented. Walsh dismissed the notion that O’Donovan had any special access, though he said he was open to reforms.
The mayor’s proposal, which required state approval because it carried fines of up to $10,000 and the possibility of criminal prosecution, languished for two years. In the meantime, the council offered its own ordinance that did not require state approval but with smaller fines.
By Wednesday morning, several lobbyists had already registered with the clerk’s office, including the firms Serlin Haley, New Boston Strategies, and ML Strategies, whose team includes former Suffolk district attorney Daniel F. Conley, and former governor William F. Weld, a Republican candidate for president.
In addition to registering, lobbyists must also file quarterly reporters detailing their work.
“This type of transparency is fundamental to the city’s ability to require consistency and be held accountable by residents,” said Councilor Michelle Wu, who pushed for the council’s ordinance. “There are many decisions, big and small, where we owe it to residents to be fully transparent about who has a seat at the table and who is trying to influence that decision.”
Walsh said in a statement that, “After years of effort and negotiations from when I first filed these reforms, I am proud that the City Council has worked with my administration to pass an ordinance creating a system that brings transparency and accountability to municipal lobbying for the first time.
“This ordinance will help the City of Boston continue to meet the high expectations of transparency and accountability that Boston’s residents expect and deserve,” Walsh said.
Under the ordinance, the city will set up a five-member commission, with representatives from the mayor’s office, the City Council president, and the city clerk’s office. Walsh said earlier this week that his three appointees are: Stephanie Everett of Mattapan; Sammy Nabulsi of Roxbury; and Vivien Li, former president of the Boston Harbor Association. City Council President Andrea Campbell’s office said that she will likely serve on the commission.
The commission would be charged with reviewing an individual or entity’s work with the city, determining whether that work would be subject to the new law, and whether to hand out penalties, Feeney said.
Feeney said Tuesday that her office was communicating the new requirements to lobbyists who had inquired about the process. She said an online portal system the city set up is similar to the one used by the state.
“We’ve worked to make this as clear as it can be,” Feeney said, encouraging anyone with questions to put them in writing in her office.