Ohio Statehouse Regulates Lobbying Through Public Disclosure and Expenditure Limits

In Ohio, a lobbyist is a person who is compensated to actively advocate the interests of others before Ohio’s legislative and executive branches, or one of the state’s retirement systems.xix A person or entity who compensates a lobbyist to advocate on its behalf is referred to as an employer, and the relationship between an employer and a lobbyist is called an engagement.xx  Based on the subject matter outcome a lobbyist is attempting to influence, Ohio law categorizes engagements as: legislative engagements, executive engagements, or retirement system engagements.xxi Engagement types are not exclusive; lobbyists are often both a legislative and executive lobbyist for a single employer (and thus have multiple engagements with that employer).xxii Lobbyists may have engagements with multiple employers, just as employers may have engagements with multiple lobbyists.xxiii 

In Ohio, lobbying does not include grassroots lobbying are efforts by those who are not compensated, that have a direct interest in Legislation, Executive Agency Decisions, or Retirement System Decisions, and who petition public officials and employees for the redress of their grievances, contacts made for the sole purpose of gathering information contained in a public record, appearances before public hearings of the general assembly, the controlling board, an Executive Agency, or a Retirement System to give testimony, news, editorial, and advertising statements published in bona fide newspapers, journals, magazines, or broadcasts and the gathering and furnishing of information for such news, editorial, and advertising statements, and publications primarily designed for and distributed to members of bona fide associations, or charitable or fraternal nonprofit corporations.xxiv  Ohio law does not permit registered lobbyist being compensated on a contingent or success fee basis for the outcome of legislation or an executive agency action.xxv  Attorneys often represent clients before state agencies. Attorneys do not register as a Lobbyist where the outcome of their representation results in an agency decision that is only applicable to their client or certain named individuals, but attorneys must register as a Lobbyist where their communications with state agencies (other than testimony at a public hearing) may affect Legislation or Executive Agency Decisions that are universally applicable.xxvi 

Registered state lobbyist are restricted in their Expenditures on public officials known as a Reportable Person.  An Expenditure is any payment, reimbursement, or gift of anything of value provided by a Lobbyist or an Employer for the use or benefit of a Reportable Person regardless of the purpose for which it is given.xxvii An Expenditure includes: services, gifts, meals and beverages, entertainment, ticketed events, lodging, and transportation.xxviii  An Expenditure provided to anyone personally associated with a Reportable Person (immediate family, significant other, friend, business partner) is for the benefit of the Reportable Person unless the Lobbyist or Employer has an independent relationship with the recipient that is separate from any personal association to the Reportable Person.xxix Expenditures are of different types with different limits as outlined in the table below. 

Ohio General Assembly Expenditure Limits by Type 

Expenditure Type Expenditure Limits 
Itemized Gift Expenditures Anything of value, excluding a meal or beverage, given to or made for the benefit of a Reportable Person that exceeds $25 
Itemized Meal/Beverage Expenditures A meal or beverage expenditure made for the benefit of a particular Reportable Person that, when aggregated with all other meal/beverages made for the benefit of that person by the Lobbyist over the course of a year, exceeds $50 
Non-Itemized Meal/Beverage Expenditures Meal/Beverages Expenditures Under $50: A meal or beverage expenditure made for the benefit of a particular Reportable Person that, when aggregated with all other meal/beverages made for the benefit of that person by the Lobbyist over the course of a year, does not exceed $50 
Speaking Engagement Expenditures A meal or beverage expenditure provided to certain Reportable Persons participating in a panel, seminar, or speaking event.  
National Organization Conference Expenditures A meal or beverage expenditure provided for the benefit of certain Reportable Persons attending a meeting or conference of a National Organization to which a state agency pays membership dues 
All-Invited Event Expenditures The cost of meals and beverages provided at an event to which all members of the general assembly are invited or to which all members of either chamber are invited 

Each engagement must be registered with the Ohio Legislative Inspector General.xxx Thereafter, lobbyists and employers must periodically report details about the lobbying activity and any expenditures associated with the engagement, and this information is submitted by filing an Activity & Expenditure Report (AER).xxxi  Each calendar year consists of three reporting periods: January-AprilMay-August, and September-December. Following each, lobbyists and employers must each submit AER’s to the OLIG.xxxii 

2020-21 Ohio Lobbying Reporting Calendar 

Due Date Lobbying Report Activity 
January 31, 2020 Deadline to file September-December 2019 Activity & Expenditure Reports and updated PED Statements. 
June 1, 2020 Deadline for filing the January-April 2019 Activity & Expenditure Reports 
September 30, 2020 Deadline to file May-August 2020 Activity & Expenditure Reports 
January 1, 2021 September-December 2020 Activity & Expenditure Reports 
January 15, 2021 The last day to renew all Legislative, Executive and Retirement System registrations in OLAC without a client signature page 
February 1, 2021 Deadline to file September-December 2020 Activity & Expenditure 

Finally, state of Ohio registered lobbyist are required to list expenditures they have with Ohio executive agency and legislators and staff.  The overwhelming focus of lobbyist spending is on the Ohio General Assembly with $766,849 reported for lobbyist legislative spending while the Ohio executive agency only accounted for $8471 in total lobbying spending in 2019.  The large legislative total illustrates the widespread use of legislative receptions by various interest groups and as more meal expenses for legislators while recent executive agency leaders have not permitted or discouraged their staff from taking any gifts from registered lobbyist including meals.   As an example, of the $766,849 total for lobbyist legislative expensive $642,017 was for legislative receptions in which the entire Ohio General Assembly was invited.