ALBANY, N.Y. -- In a victory for hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons, a judge declared part of New York's lobbying law unconstitutional yesterday, ruling that regulators do not 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 NAACP, for their roles in a June 4, 2003, rally against New York's harsh drug laws.
The commission contended that the event was lobbying and that the two had to disclose how much was spent.
Simmons, founder of Def Jam Recordings and head of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, and Chavis have said the rally was simply the exercise of free speech.
In their lawsuit, Simmons and Chavis said 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 violate due process rights by failing to give notice or a hearing before deciding on penalties.
David Grandeau, executive director for the lobbying commission, 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 for relatively small amounts of narcotics.
The state Temporary Commission on Lobbying was created in 1981 by the state Legislature and requires semiannual financial disclosures of lobbyists on their spending to influence bills and lawmakers.