One of three oil giants doing business in Alaska does not plan to register its employees as lobbyists this year, raising concerns that it's deliberately skirting state law.
ConocoPhillips said it will be limiting its involvement in the 2009 legislative session to avoid reporting requirements that it describes as burdensome. Employee lobbyists do not have to register if they spend less than 10 hours in a 30-day period pushing their company's position on legislative issues.
Conoco had five people registered as lobbyists last year, mostly working on natural gas pipeline issues. Company officials said one of them, government relations director Michael Hurley, is in Juneau again this year but will be restricting his lobbying activities. His attendance at committee meetings does not constitute lobbying under the law.
But Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, said he's concerned that while Conoco may be following the letter of the law, it may not be following its spirit, which is to let the public know how state business is being conducted.
"I think the public would be stunned to learn that one of the most powerful companies in the state of Alaska has decided to not register their lobbyists," French said Wednesday on the Senate Floor.
"I hope they will come to their senses. I hope they will do the right thing. I hope they will do the same thing that other major companies in the state are doing and register and get on with the business that they do here."
Jim Bowles, the president of Conoco's Alaska office, responded to French's concerns in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.
Citing an October 2008 advisory opinion from the Alaska Public Offices Commission, Bowles wrote that "monitoring compliance has become an excessive burden, and we believe it will be difficult for many companies or large organizations to comply."
The opinion, written at the request of another oil company, BP PLC, said companies must provide detailed information on how much work is done by non-lobbyist employees providing support to lobbyists and other lobbying activities. Companies are already required to report lobbyists' information.
One employee did register this year, but Bowles said that was done in error and "steps have been taken to remedy that."
State Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, also is an employee of Conoco.
French said the public deserves to know who is lobbying in the Capitol and how much that company is spending on lobbying. And he pointed out that other companies have registered their lobbyists this year.
So far, Exxon Mobil has three, BP PLC has one, and TransCanada Corp. has 10 registered lobbyists.
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