Odds, ends and extras in the ethics bills

May 19, 2013 

Scoppe

— People who lobby the Legislature must register with the state, and they’re barred from giving gifts or campaign donations to public officials and serving on state governing boards. There also are limits on the lobbyists’ employers.

The governor’s ethics study panel proposed extending the lobbying laws to people who lobby local governments, and the ethics bill passed by the House does that.

There’s a reasonable argument for this, since the ethics and campaign finance requirements already apply to local officials. And as a bonus, if you want to see the ethics law enforced, the change would increase the number of registered lobbyists, and thus the amount of money available to run the Ethics Commission.

But while the concept makes sense, it doesn’t make sense to just add “local government” to the definition of a lobbyist, as the House bill does. Why should someone who only lobbies, say, the Lexington Town Council or the Richland 2 School Board be prohibited from making a campaign donation to a state legislator, or serving on a state board?

Those and other questions led the Senate Judiciary Committee to leave the lobbyist definition alone. It’s the right call.

The ethics law is far too convoluted as it is, and until someone writes a smarter proposal with appropriate rules for local lobbyists, this is just another complication, and another reason for people to object to the legislation.

The same, by the way, is true of increasing the awards for government whistleblowers — a fine idea, but one that ought to be handled in separate legislation — and allowing members of the public to file civil lawsuits to collect public money lost to fraud and abuse.

Cindi Ross Scoppe

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