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February 20, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Washington state lobbyists should fund transparency efforts

In 2012, the top 50 lobbyists in Washington earned between $96,119 and $471,670. I think it’s safe to say most of them can afford a $200 fee to help the Public Disclosure Commission upgrade an electronic filing system one lobbyist described this week as “woefully inadequate for what it was intended to do.”

The more lobbyists migrate to an online database, the easier it will be for the rest of us to view their spending reports. Wouldn’t you want to know how much someone spent to wine and dine your legislator in exchange for his or her vote on any given issue?

If you agree, then encourage lawmakers to support HB 1005. On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee held a public hearing. They have yet to take a vote. As the editorial board stated in this December editorial, lawmakers ought to give the bill a serious look because there are more than 900 registered lobbyists in Washington state.

In 2012, total lobbying expenses in Washington reached $51.8 million. But to see how they used that money to entertain lawmakers and which interests they protected, citizens have to find and read through scanned reports that are often filled out in handwriting.

In contrast, candidates’ campaign-finance reports on the commission’s website are both easy to query and revealing.

Lobbyist Bob Cooper testified the bill would be “inviting a lawsuit against the state because I don’t believe the fee is constitutional.”

Fellow lobbyist Steve Gano took the opposite position and said the only way to instill public confidence in his interactions with lawmakers is to ensure they have access to data. He described the PDC’s current system as “woefully inadequate” because it frequently shuts down and requires rebooting while lobbyists are scanning and entering information.

“Efforts that have gone into it get lost,” Gano said. ” It suits no one well and it”s truly a user fee. Any of us who are hired to represent clients before you, in essence, are doing exactly the same thing. Our clients are being charged a fee to petition the government on their behalf.”

Gano is right.

The first part of HB 1005 is a no-brainer, but the second measure in the bill should be eliminated or amended because it would close the Executive Ethics Board and transfer that agency’s enforcement and ethics law training responsibilities to the PDC. Agency directors warned the panel that  doing so would not actually save taxpayers any money.

Watch TVW’s video of the public hearing below.

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