Mayor Richard Kaplan, who governs the small south Florida town of Lauderhill, has decided that all journalists in his town should register as lobbyists, according to his reading of the city's ethics code.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that Kaplan told one of the paper's reporters that the new ethics code, which goes into effect Jan. 2, allowed him to respond to all journalists' press inquiries with a "no comment," unless they were registered lobbyists.
The reporter, Brittany Wallman, posted her email exchange with the mayor, in which he explains his reasoning.
"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," Kaplan wrote. "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."
Kaplan claims that it's not the reporting itself that he has a problem with, clarifying that reporters can attend public meetings and report on their findings without lobbyist status. It's the way reporters' findings are used for editorial purposes that he takes issue with.
"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," Kaplan's email continues. "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."
The mayor claimed in the email to have contacted the county's inspector general to clarify the code, but that the inspector general would not be issuing an opinion. Therefore, Kaplan said, he would play it safe and require lobbyist status be established before any interviews.
"Honestly, it will restrict access to me and will have a chilling effect," he wrote.
Creative Commons image via flickr user US Mission Geneva.