Murkowski signs lobbying bill despite 'reservations'

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) A bill relaxing the state's lobbying laws by lengthening the time some people could spend attempting to influence government before they must register as lobbyists was signed into law Wednesday.

Gov. Frank Murkowski signed Senate Bill 89 despite expressing reservations about it and said he would ask the Legislature to change it next year.

The bill changes the current rule requiring people to register as lobbyists if they spend more than four hours in a 30-day period attempting to influence government.

The new law would lengthen that time to 40 hours in a 30-day period and could exempt nearly a third of the state's registered lobbyists.

''I am concerned that the increase in the hours threshold from four to 40 is a larger increase than may be needed or is appropriate,'' Murkowski said in a statement.

Murkowski said he will ask the Legislature to reduce that time threshold to 24 hours in a 30-day period.

Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, who sponsored the bill, said he would be open to talking with the governor and other members of the Legislature about changing the bill.

''The number of hours is not the focus. It was to make sure the number of hours were adequate so we didn't get accidental lobbyists,'' Seekins said.

The new law 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.

The Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, which filed a lawsuit in Anchorage Superior Court over the state's lobbying restrictions, was the chief backer of the bill.

Pam Labolle, president of the chamber, said she expects the new law to end the need for the lawsuit. But the final decision will be made by the chamber board, she said.

Critics of the bill argued that the time spent actually meeting with lawmakers or testifying in committees is brief, so someone could spend considerable time lobbying the Legislature without registering.

The public would not know who is trying to influence government, and those people lobbying for bills would be free to make campaign donations to lawmakers outside their district, critics argued.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission, which regulates lobbyists, had suggested to lawmakers expanding the limit to about 16 hours during a 30-day period.

''The commission does not support the 40-hours (provision) and we are going to find that somewhere between difficult and impossible to enforce,'' said Tammy Kempton, an APOC administrator.

Full-time professional lobbyists would still be required to register with the commission if they seek to influence state government. But the bill would affect part-time lobbyists or employees compensated for their time influencing state government.

The bill also changes the rules on gift giving by lobbyists to legislators and staff. It expands the allowable gifts that lobbyists can give to lawmakers or staff to include tickets to charity events approved by the Legislative Council, such as a miniature golf tournament held annually in the halls of the capitol.

Murkowski signed the bill because it makes several clarifications to state law and allows people to spend time meeting with legislators without registering as lobbyists, he said.

''I signed (Senate Bill 89), in spite of my reservations ... because of the procedural protections it offers for citizens to freely petition their government, and for people to do required business with their government,'' Murkowski said in his statement.

The new law will take effect in 90 days.

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