Did a political candidate just use a PR ethics rule as a campaign tactic?

This week, a political campaign in Rochester filed a complaint against one of its opponents. The filing is based on recently expanded rules on grassroots lobbying from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). Both the nature and outcome of this week’s filing are important to help New York State public relations professionals interpret a rule known for its vague guidelines. 

In 2016, JCOPE updated its opinion on grassroots lobbying. The rules apply greater scrutiny to public relations professionals who use relationships with government officials or editorial boards to influence positions or governmental actions. They also address so-called “door opening,” which initiate contact between vested parties such as businesses and government officials. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 200 people in the Rochester metro work in the public relations field. The JCOPE guidelines effectively impact those individuals as well as a range of other professionals whose work involves media relations and public affairs. 

JCOPE will ultimately decide whether or not recent events in Rochester crossed over into grassroots lobbying. Regardless, the interpretation between generating awareness or building influence walks a fine line. JCOPE plays an important role to hold the public relations field accountable. However, it’s also important to distinguish actual checks on public relations ethics from shrewd political campaign tactics. 

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