JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A conservative Missouri activist has been ordered to follow the state's lobbying rules, even though he isn't paid, in a court ruling that could have wide-reaching implications.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cited the government's interest in transparency in ruling last week that Ron Calzone must register as a lobbyist with the Missouri Ethics Commission and file lobbying reports, the Kansas City Star reported.
For years, Calzone has met with lawmakers and testified before legislative committees as the founder of the nonprofit group Missouri First. But he didn't think he needed to register as a lobbyist because he isn't paid and never gives legislators gifts.
Calzone's attorneys say the decision is a significant strike against the constitutional right to petition the government and have vowed to appeal. They argue that the court's interpretation of Missouri lobbying law could end up being expansive enough to require everyday citizens to register as lobbyists or face the possibility of a complaint that could lead to criminal penalties.
"The problem is that every year dozens of groups go down to the Capitol for lobby days, and they have people designated to speak on behalf of these groups," said David Roland, one of Calzone's attorneys and director of Litigation for the Freedom Center of Missouri, a libertarian nonprofit that advocates for government transparency.
"And there is no principle distinction between that and what Mr. Calzone does. None," Roland said. "They are volunteers, but according to this ruling, those people should have to register and report as lobbyists."
Calzone's legal drama began on Election Day in 2014, when a complaint was filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission alleging that since 2000, when he founded Missouri First, Calzone had violated state law by lobbing members of the Missouri General Assembly on behalf of Missouri First without registering and paying registration filing fees.
In September 2015, the commission found probable cause that Calzone had violated two state laws and ordered him to register as a lobbyist, file all required reports, cease and desist from attempting to influence legislation until after filing an annual lobbyist registration and other required reports, and pay a $1,000 fine.
In upholding the commission's decision Tuesday, the court said the state has "an interest in transparency, which includes avoiding the fact or even the appearance of public corruption and knowing who is attempting to influence legislators and public policy."