Hiring a Lobbyist for Libraries

Submission Date:


Politics are impacting libraries more than ever, and our library organization is considering hiring a lobbyist to represent our interests in Albany.  We know that as a non-profit we can't engage in "political activity", but can we hire a lobbyist?  And if we can, what do we need to be thinking about, legally?


This answer applies to an association library, a cooperative library system, or regional library council (e.g. the Western New York Library Resources Council or the Northern New York Library Network).

It can also apply to a chartered museum or historical society.

If you are a public library (municipal, special district, school district) or a consolidated/confederated library system, feel free to read along for fun[1]...but this does not apply to you, since there are some extra things to consider before such an entity directly engages[2] in activity that looks/acts/smells like lobbying.

But speaking of "looks/acts/smells like lobbying"... what is "lobbying"?

By law[3], "lobbying" is "any attempt to influence":[4]

(i) the passage or defeat of any legislation or resolution by either house of the state legislature including but not limited to the introduction or intended introduction of such legislation or resolution or approval or disapproval of any legislation by the governor;

(ii) the adoption, issuance, rescission, modification or terms of a gubernatorial executive order; (iii) the adoption or rejection of any rule or regulation having the force and effect of law by a state agency;

(iv) the outcome of any rate making proceeding by a state agency;

(v) any determination: (A) by a public official, or by a person or entity working in cooperation with a public official related to a governmental procurement, or (B) by an officer or employee of the unified court system, or by a person or entity working in cooperation with an officer or employee of the unified court system related to a governmental procurement;

(vi) the approval, disapproval, implementation or administration of tribal-state compacts, memoranda of understanding, or any other tribal-state agreements and any other state actions related to Class III gaming as provided in 25 U.S.C. § 2701, except to the extent designation of such activities as “lobbying” is barred by the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, by a public official or by a person or entity working in cooperation with a public official in relation to such approval, disapproval, implementation or administration;

(vii) the passage or defeat of any local law, ordinance, resolution, or regulation by any municipality or subdivision thereof;

(viii) the adoption, issuance, rescission, modification or terms of an executive order issued by the chief executive officer of a municipality;

(ix) the adoption or rejection of any rule, regulation, or resolution having the force and effect of a local law, ordinance, resolution, or regulation; or

(x) the outcome of any rate making proceeding by any municipality or subdivision thereof.

So, "lobbying" is attempting to influence various decisions and actions of state and local government. 

And although the above list doesn't say it, lobbying can be done either by a contractor retained by an organization, an employee of the organization, or through the "grassroots" work of an organization.

With all that said....

YES, a non-profit entity chartered by NYSED (including a university, college, museum, historical society, library, library system, or library council) can hire a lobbyist to advance their interests at New York's state capital, or at the local level, through lobbying. 

That said, before hiring or employing a person to lobby at the state or local level[5], there are some important things to consider.

First, an organization should familiarize itself with the many requirements imposed on lobbying entities in New York (basically, on lobbyists and their clients).

As of October 10, 2023, the state has a helpful guide on those requirements—which are so extensive I would exceed my "Ask the Lawyer" word count[6] if I tried to even summarize it—is posted here: https://ethics.ny.gov/lobbying-overview.

Of those requirements, one of the most significant is this: for any organization that will spend more than $4,999.99 on lobbying during a calendar year (not just on one lobbyist, but overall lobbying activities), there are some routine reporting requirements.  So before signing a contract with a lobbyist or lobbying firm, or budgeting for employee or organizational resources for lobbying, a governing board should consider what is needed to both comply with the law and get the most out of a lobbying relationship and activities.[7]

From these requirements spring some "considerations".  The big ones are:

  • All lobby firms or lobbyists hired must be registered with the state[8];
  • All lobbying contractual agreements and reporting must meet precise regulatory requirements[9];
  • A client spending more than $4999.99 a year on lobbying must file a semi-annual report to the New York State Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government (due every July 15th and January 15)[10] which requires creating a login and developing a profile https://my.ny.gov
  • Once triggered, the duty to self-report lobbying activity may also include "direct lobbying" (lobbying by employees of the organization)
  • The CEO of the organization hiring the lobby firm must attend mandatory ethics training (see https://ethics.ny.gov/information-mandated-ethics-training-requirement-lobbyists-and-clients)
  • The objectives of lobbying should be clear and the decision to spend resources on lobbying should be re-evaluated at least annually (when the budget is approved).

In other words: while the benefits can be immense, the decision to retain a lobbyist—or to in any way spend at least $5,000.00 annually on lobbying—comes with added obligations.  Responsibility for meeting those obligations should be assigned with clarity and monitored routinely.

Which means that any organization engaging in lobbying OR employing employees who lobby should have a policy on lobbying.

As readers know, at "Ask the Lawyer," when we say "you should have a policy" we provide a template policy. 

Of course, as with all templates, this template should be reviewed by your own legal counsel and customized to your institution's own operations.  

But it is a good place to start.

Here it is:


[NAME] Lobbying Policy



Adopted by the Board of Trustees on: DATE


Related policies:


[any policy that addresses the bar on political activity and who speaks for the organization]




To be reviewed by the Board of Trustees not less than every 5 years




To ensure compliance with state and federal lobbying law and regulations, any lobbing done on behalf of the NAME ("Organization") will follow this policy and procedure.



Identifying strategic objectives meriting retention or employment of lobbyist by Organization

Board, Director

Selecting qualified contractors for lobbying services



Signing contract for lobbying services

Director, after resolution approving contract by board

Ensuring Organization files of client semi-annual reports required by New York when required (when at least $5,000.00 is spent on lobbying in the calendar year).



Monitoring state and federal lobbying filings to ensure accuracy, consistency with contract requirements, and awareness of Organization's footprint in a publicly accessible filing.



Maintaining a system to track all expenses related to lobbying by and on behalf of Organization.

Treasurer, Board

Ensuring all expenses related to lobbying are properly and timely entered by Organization.


Director and any designated personnel or retained book-keeper

Monitoring annual expenses for lobbying to ensure consistency with budget, contract, and this policy.


Treasurer, Board

Monitoring performance of all retained and employed lobbyists to enable assessment of contract performance prior to termination or renewal.

Board, aided by report of Director.

Before passing such a policy, a board should review the guidance linked in the footnotes, and make sure the organization is set up to comply with the requirements.  Whenever possible, having a local attorney review the final version before it is adopted is a wise idea.

Thank you for a great question.  May all your visits to state and local officials be cordial, helpful, and productive!



[1] Who DOESN'T read commentary about state lobbying law for fun?

[2] This is why the Education Law specifically allows membership in the New York Library Association (NYLA), which was expressly created to advocate for library interests and does spend resources on lobbyists.

[3] Specifically, New York's Legislative Law, Article 1-A, the "Lobbying Act."

[4] I am about to his you with ten roman numerals worth of various types of legislative and government action.  If you don't want to read it, summarize it this way: "decisions and actions by government."

[5] If your organization is considering lobbying at the federal level, check out the guidance here: http://lobbyingdisclosure.house.gov/amended_lda_guide.html.  This RAQ only addresses lobbying to state and local officials/agencies.

[6] Hmmm… do I have a word count?  Let's not try to find out.

[7] The state's guidance on these requirements is set out in the 27-page guide listed here:  https://ethics.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2023/10/final-updated-2023_9-csa-and-csa-amendment-information.pdf.

[8] As required by 19 NYCRR 943.10.

[9] These basic requirements are set out in 19 NYCRR 943(j).

[10] As required by 19 NYCRR 943.12.


Templates, Policy, Association Libraries, Cooperative Library Systems, Regional Library Councils, Political Action