A bill that would allow lobbyists to spend 10 times as many hours with lawmakers before having to register with the Alaska Public Offices Commission is expected to be voted on today in the House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 89 gives lobbyists 40 hours a month with lawmakers before having to register with APOC. Now lobbyists must register after spending more than four hours in a 30-day period.
Brooke Miles, executive director for APOC, watched Wednesday's House debate from the gallery. She said in an interview the 40-hour requirement would be too difficult to regulate.
"How do you enforce it? Are we going to get floor monitors?" she asked. "When you expand it to 40 hours it's just way too much time."
But Rep. Lesil McGuire, an Anchorage Republican, argued it is a freedom of speech issue and that small businesses are prevented from lobbying the Legislature because they do not want to be regulated by prohibitive APOC laws.
Registered lobbyists are prevented by law from holding political fund-raisers, serving as campaign managers and contributing to lawmakers outside their own districts. They also must pay a $100 registration fee and submit financial disclosure statements to APOC.
"Make no mistake - what the lobbying act is doing is forcing them to give up their First Amendment rights," McGuire said.
But Miles says the bill opens the floodgates to special interests. She said large corporations generally send only three or four professional lobbyists to the Legislature to minimize the number of employees who are subject to lobbyist laws.
"But now they would have no reason to minimize that, so they can send in teams of employees (who spend fewer than 40 hours with lawmakers) who aren't required to register, and the public will have no information about who is participating and how much time they're spending," she said.
Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara offered an amendment to reduce the limit to 12 hours, but it was voted down by the House.
Another bill moving in the Legislature would more than double the amount individuals and political action committees could contribute to candidates and political parties.
Senate Bill 119 proposed by Gov. Frank Murkowski would allow individuals to contribute $1,000 a year to candidates and political action committees, up from $500. The bill also increases contributions to political parties from $5,000 to $10,000.
Political action committees could contribute $2,000 a year to candidates and $4,000 a year to political parties. The limit for both now is $1,000.
The bill also would give APOC authority to issue cease and desist orders on political ads that would cause irreparable harm to a candidate or materially affect the outcome of an election.
APOC supports the proposal, noting that a clause in the bill would close a loophole in state law that allows outside interest groups to run "issue ads."
Issue ads, also known as "soft money ads," do not expressly endorse a particular candidate by name but work to discredit the candidate's opponent.
"It should really close a loophole because this would mean that they are no longer permitted," Miles said.
Senate Bill 119 was passed out of the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday and is expected to be debated by the full Senate today.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.