State chamber of commerce seeks lobbyist rule change

Posted: Monday, March 03, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A pair of bills in the Legislature would dramatically loosen the requirement that people seeking to influence lawmakers must register as lobbyists.

Officials with the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce say current lobby-registration rules are too strict. The business group is backing changes to the rules.

The rules force business people to pay a $100 fee, file financial and occupational disclosure reports and abide by limits on lobbyists' campaign activity, according to the chamber.

Currently, people must register with the state as lobbyists if they spend more than four hours in a month engaged in ''direct communication'' with lawmakers or legislative staff with the goal of influencing the Legislature.

Pamela LaBolle, president of the state chamber, called the rules grossly unfair.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission, the state agency that regulates lobbying and political campaign finance, says the bills could result in virtually no oversight of the lobbying in Juneau.

Even Alaska's professional high-dollar lobbyists could avoid registering, said Tammy Kempton, an APOC administrator.

''If you talk to professional lobbyists,'' Kempton said. ''They can kill a bill in five minutes.''

A bill sponsored by Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, says people would only need to register as lobbyists if they spend more than 80 hours in a month lobbying lawmakers, or more than 60 days in a 120-day legislative session. Those were the limits sought by the chamber of commerce.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, puts the limit at 40 hours a month, or more than 30 days in a 120-day session.

McGuire is chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee, which heard her bill on Friday and has scheduled another hearing for Monday.

Kempton said she understands the frustration with the four-hour limit, but even McGuire's proposed 40-hour limit is so high that the public will be in the dark about who is lobbying.

''It's so much,'' Kempton said, ''(almost) nobody will register. They won't have to.''

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara is a fierce opponent of attempts to loosen lobbying rules. He figures that even McGuire's bill could let someone make several hundred 15-minute lobbying visits to lawmakers during the four-month legislative session without ever registering as a lobbyist.

''That's not good public policy,'' Gara said.

McGuire said she is open to arguments but that the current four-hour registration requirement restricts the rights of ordinary small-business persons to come to Juneau and talk to lawmakers.

''The goal is not to get real lobbyists off the hook,'' McGuire said. ''What we want to do is to get at those folks who are not lobbyists by trade.''

People who register as lobbyists must file a report that discloses their employer, how much compensation they received for lobbying or how much they would have made at their regular job for the time spent lobbying. The also must report how much they spent on travel and hotel and related items.

Registered lobbyists are not allowed to contribute money to state legislators from outside their own legislative district and are not allowed to do campaign fund raising.

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