What follows are summaries of states that have either proposed or enacted changes to their lobbying regulations in the last year. Most of this information comes from Web-based news services.
As of mid-May, House and Senate Democrats were considering ethics and campaign finance reform measures, including banning lobbyists from soliciting money for legislative campaigns.
In April, Sen. Bob Hagedorn introduced a bill that would expand the definition of a lobbyist and require companies seeking state contracts to file reports disclosing their lobbying efforts. Earlier in the session, the Joint Budget Committee announced it would examine the role of “legislative liaisons,” state employees whose sole function is to lobby the legislature on behalf of their government offices. At a time of drastic budget cutbacks, questions arose about the propriety of spending approximately $1.8 million a year to pay those salaries.
In Florida, where lobbyists outnumber legislators by a ratio of almost 13-to-1, Tom Lee took over as Senate president promising to reform the state’s lobbying laws. Lee first banned the tradition of lobbyists providing free lunches to Senate committees. In April and May, the Senate approved, revised and re-approved ethics measures that would, among other changes, require lobbyists to report their earnings and expenditures.
Under the Senate’s final bill, lobbyists would be allowed to give gifts exceeding $25 in value, but could not provide meals that cost more than $100 per person; they also would have to identify whom they wine and dine in reports that would be posted on the Internet. Lobbying firms would have to disclose the total compensation they receive from each client and report the exact amount received when the quarterly fee exceeds $45,000. Last-minute amendments would generally ban felons from lobbying the legislature and allow lobbyists to report their compensation in incremental categories.
Gov. Sonny Perdue proposed a $50 gift and meal limit as part of his ethics reform bill, but the provision was stripped from the version that legislators approved on the final night of the session. The bill he signed into law imposes a one-year “cooling-off period” before ex-legislators can become lobbyists, sets up a bipartisan legislative committee that will examine conflict-of interest issues involving legislators, and requires lobbyists to disclose the names of clients from whom they receive $10,000 or more in a year and what they spend lobbying state regulatory agencies.
In January, a House committee passed a bill imposing a one-year cooling-off period. Gov. Mitch Daniels, by executive order, has already established a one-year waiting period for executive branch employees. Critics point out that the House ban would only apply to registered lobbyists, so legislators could get around the ban by working as consultants. According to the Indianapolis Star, about 25 former lawmakers now work as lobbyists in the state.
In the past year, Louisiana has made several important modifications to its lobbying laws. The expenditure threshold at which a person is considered a lobbyist was increased to $500. The state began to require a lobbyist to report expenditures made by the principal or employer in the lobbyist’s presence. (Principals and employers are still not required to register or report.) As of January 2005, the state also began to regulate executive branch lobbyists.
The state’s ethics code generally prohibits elected officials and state employees from accepting gifts from lobbyists, but exempts tickets to sporting or cultural events worth up to $100. An absolute ban on free tickets passed in May by the Senate was later scuttled in the House.
In a state that has seen its last five House speakers become lobbyists after leaving office, the House passed a bill in January that would impose a one-year cooling-off period.
In February, senators voted to drop a legislative rule that prohibited lawmakers from accepting gifts worth $50 or more from lobbyists, as well as accepting more than $100 in gifts from a lobbyist per year. Senators supporting the rule reversal argued that it was outdated and, without any enforcement mechanism, frequently violated. A more recent statute requires lobbyists to disclose gifts given to elected officials.
In January, Gov. Brian Schweitzer called for a two-year cooling-off period covering executive and legislative branch officials. However, the 2005 legislative session closed with the proposed legislation at a virtual standstill in both legislative chambers.
In June 2004, then-Gov. James McGreevey signed into law sweeping changes to lobbying regulations. The amendments expand the definition of who must register as a lobbyist (now called a “governmental affairs agent”), require reporting of certain “grassroots lobbying” expenditures, impose a registration fee and increase the state’s audit powers. After a period of public comment, the state Election Law Enforcement Commission will decide how to implement the new regulations.
In March, an appeals court unanimously ruled that the state’s lobbying law is constitutional. The lawsuit was brought by Def Jam Recordings founder Russell Simmons, who violated the law by not registering as a lobbyist when he held a rally in 2003 to protest the state’s drug laws.
A week earlier, Gov. George Pataki proposed legislation that would ban gifts from lobbyists, sharply limit lobbying for state contracts and close a loophole that allows state employees to avoid punishment for ethics violations by leaving office. The legislature has put forward its own reform measures, some of which mirror Pataki’s. The Assembly passed a bill that would require lobbyists seeking to influence state contracts, executive orders or tribal compacts to disclose their activities.
Pataki also seeks an outright ban on gifts from lobbyists to state officials. The current law allows gifts worth up to $75. The state lobbying commission interprets the law to mean $75 per gift, thus allowing lobbyists, in theory, to bestow a limitless stream of gifts worth up to $75 on any official.
In April, the state Senate passed lobbying reforms designed to close a disclosure loophole and curb “revolving-door” abuses. The so-called “Goodwill Lobbying Loophole” allows special interests to entertain legislators without reporting the expenditures if they avoid discussing any particular legislation. Under the Senate proposal, which also would cover the governor’s office and executive agencies, lobbyists would be allowed to spend no more than $100 per legislator and would be required to report expenditures of more than $25. The bill does not regulate the gifts of nonprofits, however. For example, the University of North Carolina could continue the practice of giving public officials free tickets to its sporting events.
The Senate also passed a bill that would make members of the General Assembly wait until their two-year elected term ends before accepting employment as a lobbyist. An effort to extend the cooling-off period by an additional year failed.
In July, the House introduced a bill that also would eliminate the loophole, but instead of placing a cap on spending, it simply would require lobbyists to file disclosure reports—monthly when the legislature is in session, quarterly when it isn’t—when spending more than $10. The House bill also would impose a longer cooling-off period.
The legislature voted in April to raise the threshold of the amount that a lobbyist is allowed to spend on a legislator on a single occasion without having to file a disclosure report from $50 to $60. The sponsors of the bill had sought originally to lower the threshold to $25, but the proposal was amended to have an opposite effect. However, lobbyists also would be required to disclose expenditures of $60 or more made to the spouse and family members of legislators and the governor. The bill also would raise the annual lobbyist registration fee to $25.
In January, Sen. Debbe Leftwich filed a bill to impose a two-year cooling-off period for legislators and other elected state officials. That month, the Oklahoma Ethics Commission considered raising the amount that a lobbyist can spend in a year on any state official or employee to $600, but decided to hold the limit at $300. Lobbyists are only required to disclose expenditures when they spend more than $50 on a state official over a six-month period.
Pennsylvania is still the only state lacking a lobbyist disclosure law. Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Mellow was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that the situation has made the state “the nation’s laughingstock.” The Senate sought to remedy this in April by unanimously approving a lobbyist registration and disclosure bill. The proposed legislation would require individual lobbyists who spend more than $2,500 in a financial quarter and the companies that employ them to register with the state. Companies that spend more than $2,500 on lobbying activities in a quarter would file a report detailing their expenditures. A state official or employee who receives more than $250 in gifts or more than $650 in entertainment, meals, lodging or transportation from the lobbyist or the employing company would be listed in the company’s report. A similar bill is pending in the House, but passage this year is believed to be unlikely.
The state Ethics Commission unanimously adopted more restrictive regulation regarding gifts, prohibiting all public officials from accepting any lobbyist gift worth more than $25. The old limit was $150. The commission also lowered the total value of gifts or other items of value that an official may accept from any lobbyist from $450 to $75. The measures represent something of a compromise: There had been a ban on gifts from 1998 until 2000, when the commission made the controversial decision to relax the rules.
In May, the state passed an ethics law that, despite shortcomings, won praise from watchdogs. The law prohibits elected officials from taking money to lobby or influence the government in which they serve. However, legislators can still consult or lobby for a company that does business with the state as long as the fees are earned for work done in another state. A provision that would have prohibited the spouses of legislators and Cabinet members from working as lobbyists was stripped from the proposal, but spouses are required to provide more detailed disclosure of their income. The burden of investigating and prosecuting violations under the law will fall on local district attorneys, because Tennessee still lacks an independent ethics commission with investigative or auditing authority.
Meanwhile, House and Senate bills targeting lobbyists in general are slowly moving through both chambers. The House bill is facing stiff resistance over the issue of disclosure. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Frank Buck, wants lobbyists to reveal their income and client fees, but many of his colleagues want to require disclosure only of expenses covering legislators’ food and entertainment. House bills that would have imposed a one-year cooling-off period and prohibited lobbyists from serving on many state and local boards were defeated.
In the Senate, a critical sticking point had been a provision banning lobbyists from working for contingency fees—fees paid only if the lobbyist achieves a favorable legislative result for the client. Ultimately, the Senate ethics subcommittee removed the provision before sending the bill to the full committee.
Some legislators and ethics officials want to re-examine the state’s disclosure requirements. They claim that some lobbyists are flouting the law by disclosing their clients’ lobbying aims in vague, non-descriptive and sometimes even misleading terms.
In January, the state enacted a statute imposing new training and education requirements on all lobbyists. Lobbyists will be required to take a one-time orientation course that will focus on how to comply with reporting requirements. They also will be required yearly to attend at least one hour of continuing education classes on ethics.
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