Lobbyist bill morphs

Measure divides lobbyists into pros, volunteers

Posted: Tuesday, March 18, 2003

A new version of a bill aiming to overhaul lobbyist regulation laws was introduced Monday in the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican and chairwoman of the committee, offered a substitute to her earlier proposal that would have given lobbyists 40 hours a month with legislators before having to register with the state. Lobbyists now must register with the Alaska Public Offices Commission - the state agency that regulates lobbyists - after spending more than four hours with lawmakers within a 30-day period.

McGuire's substitute for House Bill 106 would require those who earn more than 25 percent of their salary lobbying to file as a "professional" lobbyist. The proposal also creates the category "volunteer" lobbyists, for those who make less than 25 percent of their salary lobbying. "Volunteer" lobbyists would not have to register.

McGuire said something must be done to give smaller businesses better access to lawmakers. She argued small-business owners in Alaska do not want to register as lobbyists because they will be prevented by law from holding political fund-raisers, serving as campaign managers or contributing to campaigns outside of their legislative districts. Registered lobbyists also must pay a $100 registration fee and submit financial disclosure statements showing compensation and expenses incurred for lobbying.

"There are a lot of things that come into play when you register as a lobbyist, a lot of your First Amendment rights that are taken away," McGuire said at a press conference.

While McGuire calls the current law unconstitutional, opponents say her proposal would create loopholes for lobbyists who don't want to register.

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara, a committee member who has argued against changing the law, said a CEO of a major corporation who works 200 hours a month could spend 50 hours a month lobbying without having to register.

Gara said the bill would allow some lobbyists to go undetected and then hold fund-raisers for lawmakers they want to influence.

"I think if you spend time trying to influence legislators and you're paid for it, the public should know," Gara said.

But Rep. Ralph Samuels, an Anchorage Republican, said the intent of the law is to allow small-business owners more time with lawmakers.

"I don't sympathize too much with the big companies, but I sympathize very much with the little companies that want to come here and influence their government," Samuels said.

Samuels, an executive for the Anchorage-based commuter airline PenAir and former chairman of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, said he lobbied the Legislature over the years but did not realize he should register.

"I am by no means a professional lobbyist, but I'm spending more than the four hours," he said.

Rep. Max Gruenberg, an Anchorage Democrat, asked how the law would be enforced. Neither McGuire nor APOC officials have developed a plan.

"... If a person gets a salary of $100,000 a year, you wouldn't know whether 25 percent of it is for this or for doing your budgeting or for doing sales or for doing whatever you're doing. I don't know how you can quantify that," Gruenberg said.

McGuire said APOC officials would work to develop a plan, noting her proposal is based on a system used in Colorado.

Colorado law, however, defines a "professional" lobbyist as anyone who is paid to lobby lawmakers. A "volunteer" lobbyist works without pay other than expenses for travel and accommodations.

Brooke Miles, APOC director, said the organization is not taking a position on the bill, but said the new proposal would be easier to enforce than current law.

Committee members did not discuss Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposal to transfer APOC's responsibilities to other agencies.

No action was taken on the bill in Monday's committee hearing.

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