Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposed annual budget seeks a wide variety of new taxes, but the most legally dubious is a tax on “Lobbying Services as defined in §42-139.1-3(a)(3) ([North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) code] 541820),” which reads “‘Lobbying’ means acting directly or soliciting others to act for the purpose of promoting, opposing, amending, or influencing any action or inaction by any member of the executive or legislative branch of state government or any public corporation.” Oddly, NAICS code 541820 is non-specific “Public Relations Agencies,” subsuming lobbying and political consulting as well as public relations generally.
In a statement to Motif, ACLU executive director Steven Brown said, “The courts are extremely deferential to states on tax determination issues. Thus, decisions to tax interior designer services but not architectural services, or hunting clubs but not polo clubs, would face a difficult road if challenged. Because lobbying is core political speech, however, we find a tax on it to be much more problematic, especially when peripheral services – such as political consulting or public relations – would not be taxed.” The ACLU explained on their website that lobbying is “political speech, a quintessential First Amendment activity,” and expressed concern that membership dues of “organizations engaged in lobbying services,” including non-profit groups such as the ACLU itself, would be taxed.
Asked for comment, the governor’s office referred Motif to the Department of Administration, who did not respond by press time.