What influence do lobbyists?

Posted: Tuesday, August 15, 2000

The following editorial appeared in Sundays edition of the Anchorage Daily News: Most of us dont spend our Tuesday nights glued to whats going on at the Assembly meeting. Most of us dont spend our days trying to persuade one city official or another to see things our way, to get a permit approved or denied.

But there are people who do, people who are paid to influence Assembly members, heads of city departments and members of boards and commissions.

The public has a vested interest in knowing who these people are, whom they represent, what theyre paid and how they spend their money when theyre trying to affect public policy.

Both former Mayor Rick Mystrom and former city attorney Mary Hughes say theyve seen the influence of lobbyists grow over the past few years. The danger with lobbyists is not that they put forward a particular point of view but that they may garner undue influence at the expense of private citizens.

An open government is a more honest government. Likewise, the fewer secrets, the more citizens can trust the public process.

Do you wonder if your Assembly persons soul is bought and paid for by the liquor industry? Do you wonder if a particular business interest carries more clout with city officials than do your neighborhood concerns? A lobbying law would create a public paper trail to enable you to draw conclusions based on fact rather than rumor or suspicion.

Currently, the public has little opportunity to know whos haunting City Hall and Assembly chambers on behalf of clients. While a lobbyist may choose to register with the city clerk, and one has, voluntarily, there is no such requirement.

On Aug. 15, the Assembly continues a public hearing on an ordinance originally proposed by former Mayor Rick Mystrom, which would require lobbyists to register with the city clerk and disclose who pays them, how much, and how they spend money to try to influence city officials. The city Ethics Board would help enforce the law. Mr. Mystroms proposal of a fine of up to $10,000 would hit unethical lobbyists in the wallet.

Assemblyman Dan Sullivan proposes a simpler version that wouldnt require lobbyists to detail what they were paid and provides for a fine of up to $1,000 or a year in jail for those who knowingly break the law.

Assemblyman Sullivan describes lobbying as a private contract between employer and employee. But when that private contract involves attempting to influence public officials, the public has every right to details.

I happen to respect Mr. Sullivans concern about a private contract between individuals, says Ethics Board member Jean Sagan. As a compromise between the publics right to know and an individuals right to privacy, it might be useful to give a (salary) range. . . . (to let people know) was it a lot of money or a little money? When youre trying to influence the public process I dont think its wrong to ask for public disclosure.

Ms. Sagan, a four-year member of the city Ethics Board, describes the Assembly work session on the proposals as a very constructive part of the public process. And she trusts the proposals will get a responsible hearing before the Assembly Aug. 15. Be a part of that responsible hearing. Let the Assembly know your opinion.

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