EDITORIAL: Tighten disclosure rules on Capitol lobbyists
Jan 20, 2013 (The Fresno Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Created by a landmark initiative in 1974, the California Political Reform Act regulates lobbying and gives the public some glimpse into how the sausage known as legislation gets made.
But 1974 was a long time ago. The influence industry has changed, and in a detailed examination Jan. 13, The Sacramento Bee's Laurel Rosenhall revealed how much lobbying remains hidden.
As a result of public reports required by the initiative, corporations, unions and other interest groups have disclosed that they spent $2.9 billion on lobbying in the past 12 years. They've also detailed how much of that was spent.
But $794 million of that $2.9 billion was non-itemized. Perhaps it was spent on rent. More likely, it was used to pay for television or radio ads to influence public opinion, to gin up citizen interest in Astroturf campaigns related to legislation, and on public affairs consultants, strategists and attorneys.
The Fair Political Practices Commission, under Chairwoman Ann Ravel, has embarked on a worthwhile project to overhaul the disclosure requirements. At a minimum, the commission should increase the relevant information and frequency of what now are quarterly reports that show how much lobbyist employers spend and what bills they and their lobbyists seek to influence.
The commission also should seek to require some disclosure by attorneys, consultants and public relations specialists who work on public policy. They are not covered by the Political Reform Act, and, not surprisingly, there has been a proliferation of them.
Lest there be any doubt about the implications of the issue, consider AT&T's lobbying report covering the period April 1 to June 30, 2006, the period when AT&T was engaged in a war over legislation allowing it to get involved in cable television.
The telephone giant reported spending $215,000 on lobbyists and no less than $5,618 on tickets for legislators and their aides to go to various baseball and basketball games.
All that was significant, but by far the largest amount -- $17.59 million -- was spent on the "other payments to influence," for which there was no accounting.
The commission needs to fix this disclosure loophole.
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