ALBANY, N.Y. – In a victory for hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons (search), a judge declared part of New York's lobbying law unconstitutional Wednesday, ruling regulators don't give those facing possible penalties the right to be heard.
The state's lobbying commission was investigating Simmons and Benjamin Chavis, the former head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (search), for their roles in a June 4, 2003, rally against New York's harsh drug laws.
The commission contended the event was lobbying and that the two had to disclose how much was spent. Simmons, founder of Def Jam records and head of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, and Chavis have argued the rally was simply the exercise of free speech.
In their lawsuit, Simmons and Chavis argued that the agency determines guilt and levies penalties without giving defendants their due process.
Judge Bernard Malone agreed, ruling that two sections of the Lobbying Act (search) violate due process rights by failing to give notice or a hearing prior to deciding on penalties.
Lobbying commission Executive Director David Grandeau said the ruling was "not a surprise."
"We've known for some time there were deficiencies in the act," he said. "Now, hopefully, the Legislature and governor will take the opportunity to fix the unconstitutionality of the statute."
Grandeau said the decision will stop anyone from being fined for failing to file disclosures for the Simmons-Chavis rally, which protested the Rockefeller-era drug laws that impose long sentences on drug dealers and users even for relatively small amounts of narcotics.
"We are extremely pleased," said James Featherstonhaugh, Simmons' attorney.
Featherstonhaugh, himself a prominent Albany lobbyist, said he hoped the decision would prompt the commission and the Legislature to work with so-called good government groups on a law that would assure disclosure on lobbying "while assuring free speech will be protected and people will be encouraged to approach the Legislature and make their views known."
The state Temporary Commission on Lobbying (search) was created in 1981 by the state Legislature and requires semiannual financial disclosures of lobbyists on their spending to influence bills and lawmakers.
The commission has leveled fines against many targets, including $75,000 against the Philip Morris cigarette company and the New York Yankees, and $250,000 against developer Donald Trump and his associates.