Democrats lose effort to curb lobbying bill

Posted: Thursday, May 15, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) House Democrats failed Wednesday to curb a bill that would relax state lobbying laws.

House lawmakers voted 25-13 against adopting an amendment that would have moderated the bill. The amendment attempted to reduce from 40 hours to 12 hours the time someone could spend in a 30-day period attempting to influence government before paying a $100 registration fee. Current law sets the limit at four hours.

Three Republicans joined Democrats in favor of the amendment. One Democrat voted with the Republicans against the amendment. The bill sponsored by Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, is now poised for a vote in the House. It will have to go back to the Senate to consider changes.

State law restricts lobbyists from giving campaign directions outside their district and from working on campaigns. But Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said the bill will allow more people to give hundreds of dollars to any lawmaker they like, even the ones they are trying to influence.

This makes a mockery of the public's campaign reform law,'' he told his House colleagues.

Minority Leader Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, said relaxing the state's lobbying laws will raise questions with the public.

We need to be above the appearance of impropriety,'' he said.

But Rep. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, argued strongly in favor of the bill and against adopting the amendment. She said Alaska presents special challenges for constituents who want to come to Juneau and talk to lawmakers. They often must make a 3-5 day trip and bear the cost of flying or taking the ferry, and staying at a hotel.

These people are breaking the law every single day because all they want to do is come down and share their experiences as Alaskans,'' McGuire said. I think strongly citizens have a right to influence government, and freely.''

Gara said it is a mischaracterization to describe the bill as applying to average citizens. It only applies to people who are paid to influence government. While he is a fan of free speech, Gara said he is not a fan of paid speech.

Rep. Beth Kertulla, D-Juneau, said if the bill becomes law it's possible that over 100 part-time lobbyists registered with the state may be exempted in the future.

Freshman lawmaker Rep. Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage, who voted against the amendment, said when he was a small businessman coming to Juneau to talk to lawmakers he was unaware of the four-hour a month restriction.

I was a criminal,'' he said. The four-hour rule is absolutely ridiculous.''

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