Bill to regulate lobbying
Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 11:04
After Delaware placed 20th among states nationwide and earned a “C” grade in a recent survey about governmental accountability and corruptibility, state legislators introduced a new bill, designed to help improve those scores.
Senate Bill 185, a collaboration by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, Sen. President Pro Tempore Tony DeLuca (D-Varlano), House Speaker Bob Gilligan (D-Sherwood) and other legislators, was introduced to the state Senate late last month and reached its six-member Executive Committee on April 3. There, the legislation will be studied and suggested changes will be made.
The bill would alter requirements for lobbyists working to change or influence Delaware legislation. While lobbyists currently must report what clients they are working for, the new bill would require them to report what specific legislation they’re targeting as well.
“If you look at the system of reporting we have now, it obviously needs some updating,” DeLuca said.
He said that if the bill is passed, lobbyists are required to report all forms of contact with legislators, the governor’s administration members and cabinet-level officials within five days. They’ll report contact electronically, which he called a “major step forward.”
“This, along with the fact that the computers are being updated and streamlined, will make [lobbying reports] almost instantaneously available to the public […] anytime, anyone, on anyone’s behalf,” DeLuca said.
Gilligan said that after the bill leaves the committee, it will be placed on the Senate agenda to be voted on. The bill must then be passed by the state House of Representatives, and then signed by the governor on or before July 1.
“It will get done, sooner or later, but I can’t tell you exactly when it’ll come out of the committee in the Senate,” Gilligan said. “But we’ll do it as quickly as we can.”
In his weekly message released late last month, Markell quoted former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. The justice, speaking about transparency in government, said that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Markell said the bill reflects Brandeis’ message.
“Its goal is to have more ‘sunlight’ with respect to how lobbyists lobby on behalf of bills or on behalf of regulations that they’re involved in,” Markell said.
According to DeLuca, the bill will help quell citizens worried about how lobbyists influence the governmental process.
“People question and you hear that the lobbyists are approaching the legislators and it’s because of the lobbyists that this happens or that happens,” he said. “Well, if you take some of the myth out of it and you really expose what is happening and how it is happening, and the public has access to that […] the idea that groups or particular individuals will be able to do this lobbying in the dark won’t exist anymore.”
Public policy professor John McNutt praised the bill, stating in an email message that increasing transparency in government is a worthy task.
“It is important for the sake of government stability and credibility for people to be able to understand the way decisions are made,” McNutt said. “This is needed legislation toward that end. This is part of an international movement toward open government.”
He said the bill isn’t designed to limit lobbyists, but could help purify the lobbying process.
“Lobbyists are important to the legislative process. They provide information to lawmakers that they need to do their job,” McNutt said. “There are some people who are a problem but most lobbyists help democracy function. We need to root out the bad eggs and this is a step in the right direction.”
Gilligan pointed out that the bill doesn’t change the amount of money lobbyists are allowed to spend. Rather, it alters how lobbyists report their action, and he doesn’t anticipate overwhelming objections from that group.
“We think it’s necessary so that people will know who’s working for and who’s working against legislation, who is supporting it and who isn’t supporting it, who’s being paid to work for it and who’s being paid to work against it,” Gilligan said. “People [will then] know on which side of the issue the various groups come down.”
Bob Byrd, CEO of The Byrd Group, a Wilmington-based lobbying firm, said the new legislation will not dramatically change his business or practices.
“It’ll mean a little more work for us, because now you register one time for what you’re doing for a client and that’s all you have to worry about,” Byrd said. “Now, […] everyday when the bills come in, we’re going to have to figure out which bills we’re working on for each client and we’ll have to input all of that. It’s a little more work for us, but it’s not a big deal.”
Roger Roy, a lobbyist with Wilmington-based The Burris Firm, said his clients include the Laborers’ International Union of North America and Medco Health Solutions, Inc., a health insurance company.
He said government officials are already aware of what groups lobbyists represent under the current system, but that general citizens would benefit from the changes.
“You talk to legislators usually, they know which bills you’re concerned with,” Roy said. “This would allow the general public to know. It’s a little more paperwork, but it doesn’t affect the way you do your job or anything.”