Last week, five public relations firms filed a lawsuit that challenges the Joint Commission on Public Ethics’ (JCOPE) recent adoption of an advisory opinion that reinterprets the definition of lobbying to include efforts to get editorial columns written for causes.

The advisory opinion addresses “reporting obligations under the Lobbying Act for a party who is compensated for consulting services in connection with lobbying activity.” The Opinion was issued to make it clear JCOPE’s view that the state’s Lobbying Act applies to certain consultants who were engaging in “reportable grassroots lobbying,” but who are not registered with JCOPE.

According to the plaintiffs, JCOPE’s advisory opinion:

“violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution by unlawfully subjecting public relations firms like the plaintiffs to a disclosure and punishment regime designed for true lobbyists, when all that they are doing is speaking to the press about public issues. The result is that such firms, their clients, and members of the press are deterred, chilled, and silenced in violation of their First Amendment rights.”

The plaintiffs are asking the court to issue a temporary restraining order, which would prevent JCOPE from taking action to enforce the advisory opinion.