Government watchdog group apologizes for violating Pa. lobbying law

The executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania said the group would not fight the $19,900 penalty imposed by the state Ethics Commission.

  • Daniel Simmons-Ritchie/Spotlight PA

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HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania chapter of a national advocacy group known for its long-running campaign to improve lobbying transparency apologized Friday following a Spotlight PA report that it had violated the state’s lobbying law.

Common Cause Pennsylvania was fined $19,900 in January by the state Ethics Commission for filing an expense report 112 days after the deadline last year. The group had also missed filing deadlines for four other reports since the beginning of 2018, state officials said.

In a statement, Micah Sims, the executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, said he accepted “full responsibility” and apologized to the group’s board chair, Brian Cullin, as well as the national organization as a whole. Sims promised the error would not happen again.

“We have put in place a proactive process to address the filing issues and ensure that reports are always filed on time,” Sims said. “As a good government group advocating for increased transparency in politics and government we have a responsibility to model the benefits of transparency.”

Scott Swenson, a spokesperson for Common Cause’s national office based in Washington, D.C., said that Common Cause remained confident in Sims’ leadership.

“Micah acknowledged his mistake and agreed with the board how to improve systems, so it doesn’t happen again,” Swenson said. “People make mistakes. Acknowledging and correcting them is what matters.”

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Lobbying reports are one of the few ways the public can see how advocacy groups, special interests, and businesses are attempting to influence elected officials. In Pennsylvania, groups must report who they hired as lobbyists, the subjects they lobbied on, and the total amount of money they spent on lobbying efforts.

When first contacted by a Spotlight PA reporter following the Ethics Commission’s fine, Sims said his group was late in filing its expense report due to technical problems with the Department of State’s website. Sims said his group intended to challenge the penalty in court.

But the Department of State disputed Sims account and said it had no record of any communications from Common Cause Pennsylvania or any indication of a technical problem. On Friday, Common Cause affirmed it would not fight the fine in court.

“Common Cause will not challenge the fines in court and apologizes to the Ethics Commission for statements that suggested otherwise,” the statement said. “We intend to work with the commission to honor our responsibility and restore our reputation with that office.”

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