Lawmakers considering new lobbying law

Posted: Sunday, March 02, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) -- Lawmakers are considering two measures that could weaken state regulations governing how much lobbyists have to disclose to the public.

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Friday to consider a bill that changes the definition of lobbying. A similar measure was also introduced in the Senate on Friday.

Supporters say the measures allow everyday Alaskans the freedom to talk to lawmakers at length about proposed laws without fear of running afoul of the state's lobbying laws.

Critics of the proposed new laws -- such as the state agency that oversees lobbying activity -- say they create loopholes in the law that could allow some of the state's top lobbyists to circumvent reporting requirements and other restrictions.

''It would exempt almost all the people who currently register as lobbyists,'' said Tammy Kempton of the Alaska Public Offices Commission, which oversees lobbying.

The two measures affect the amount of time someone can spend attempting to influence government before they have to register as a lobbyist.

State regulations say someone who spends more than four hours during a 30-day period must register as a lobbyist and pay the $100 fee.

House Bill 106 would lengthen that period to 40 hours of lobbying during a 30-day period. It is sponsored by the House Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 89 would allow someone to lobby for up to 80 hours in a 30-day period. It is sponsored by Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bills could have ramifications for both lobbyists and politicians. Registered lobbyists now must report their clients, how much they are paid lobbying and how much they spend influencing state government.

Registered lobbyists also cannot raise funds for candidates nor give campaign contributions to legislative candidates outside their home district.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, spoke out against the proposal during a hearing on Friday. A lobbyist visit typically lasts about 15 minutes, meaning someone could meet with lawmakers more than 600 times and still not need to disclose their lobbying activity under current law, Gara said.

The Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, which is suing the state in Anchorage Superior Court over its lobbying restrictions, supports the bills. Chamber President Pamela LaBolle said current regulations infringe on business owners' rights to meet with lawmakers and administration officials.

House Judiciary Chair Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, said her intent was not to weaken the state's reporting requirements on professional lobbyists. She said if such loopholes are found she would close them.

But McGuire echoed concerns from state Chamber of Commerce officials that the current regulations unfairly restrict some Alaskans' ability to participate in the legislative process.

The House Judiciary Committee plans to hear more testimony on the bill on Monday. The Senate version is before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Seekins.

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