Legislation targets lobbyists who bully

Under proposal, threats of retribution could lead to $5,000 fine or 120 days

Posted: Tuesday, April 27, 2004

A state lawmaker has caused a stir among lobbyists by proposing a bill to sanction lobbyists who bully or intimidate legislators.

Rep. Cheryll Heinze, R-Anchorage, proposed the bill last week after a clash with an energy lobbyist earlier this session.

"I feel when a legislator is elected to do a job, they should not have to deal with any sorts of threats - direct or indirect," said Heinze.

Already, lobbyists can't give campaign contributions to most lawmakers, raise money for them or give them gifts. Current state law also makes it a crime for lobbyists to intentionally deceive lawmakers.

Heinze wants to add bullying to the list.

Under the proposal, a lobbyist who threatens any kind of retribution - including political retribution - against anyone who sponsors or testifies on a bill would be penalized.

The Alaska Public Offices Commission could fine a lobbyist up to $5,000 and bar him or her from lobbying for up to 120 days.

Heinze rewrote the bill after constitutional concerns were raised about the measure when it was introduced last week.

The earlier version of the bill made it a misdemeanor to bully or harm a lawmaker and included broad definitions for "harm" that included exposing secrets that subject lawmakers to hatred and ridicule.

Subjecting politicians to ridicule is protected under the First Amendment, said Brooke Miles, executive director of the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

"Otherwise Jay Leno could be out of a job. I think it could hurt Mr. Whitekeys too," Miles said, referring to an Anchorage entertainer known for spoofs lampooning the Legislature.

Despite the changes made by Heinze, lobbyists still question whether the law is needed.

"It should cut both ways if they are going to do that," said Pam La Bolle, who lobbies for the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce. "They have a greater ability to bully a lobbyist than a lobbyist (has) to bully them."

The bill sprang from what Heinze characterized as "indirect threats" from a lobbyist testifying against a bill she sponsors that could affect electric cooperatives. She refused to identify the lobbyist.

But she said the lobbyist threatened to "go into my district with accusations that were false" if her bill was approved.

Several lobbyists seemed surprised by the anti-bullying bill, saying common sense and not Alaska law keeps most registered lobbyists from intimidating lawmakers.

"I think most people know which line you don't cross," said Jerry Mackie, a lobbyist and former state lawmaker.

"I think how lobbyists treat legislators is closely watched by other legislators," said Mackie. "I don't know that it takes a statute. That just comes with common sense."

The anti-bullying bill is scheduled for a hearing in the House State Affairs Committee on Friday.

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