Lobbyists Lobbying Hard - For Self-preservation

Posted: February 22, 1992

HARRISBURG — You've heard of the line in the Bible, "Physician, heal thyself." Yesterday, in the state capital, it was a case of "Lobbyist, lobby for thyself."

The Pennsylvania Association of Government Relations, which represents 107 lobbyists who work the Capitol corridors, told a House committee that it opposed several provisions to legislation now before the panel - a bill to toughen lobbyist disclosure laws.

Among the changes proposed, lobbyists would be required to report the issues and bills on which they are lobbying, as well as specific expenses associated with lobbying efforts, including gifts to legislators and operational expenses.

"The main purpose is to alert the public to what is going on in the halls of government," said Barry L. Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause of Pennsylvania.

While acknowledging that some change is needed, because current laws require virtually no information to be reported, association president Frederick C. Brown said the bill goes too far.

The lobbying organization specifically opposes the bill's requirement to report items such as salaries, rent and equipment.

"Requiring the reporting of this information is needless creation of red tape and paperwork for those conducting lobbying services and is of no public policy value to you or the citizens of Pennsylvania," Brown said.

Rep. Thomas A. Michlovic (D., Allegheny), who, along with Rep. David W. Heckler (R., Bucks), is sponsoring the bill, disagreed, saying that merely requiring the reporting of money spent for entertaining legislators was ''belittling," because legislators are influenced in ways other than over dinner, such as by mailings.

"The whole issue deals with perception - perception of you and your industry, and perception of us," Michlovic told the lobbying group's head. ''The real point of this kind of law is to give people a sense of comfort . . . to know how their public policy is being made."

Others speaking on behalf of the bill included Common Cause of Pennsylvania, a citizen lobby, and the League of Women Voters.

Common Cause testified that in 1991, only 29 percent of 817 registered lobbyists in Pennsylvania filed disclosure statements, and only 13 percent reported any expenditures. That spending totaled $610,686.

According to Common Cause's research, the amount of reported spending in Pennsylvania is far below that reported in other states.

In 1990, for instance, Pennsylvania's 817 lobbyists reported spending $402,728. That same year, in New York, the 1,993 lobbyists reported $29.3 million, and 910 lobbyists in Maryland reported $11.1 million.

Gov. Casey has also called for tougher lobbyist disclosure laws. The House State Government Committee is not expected to vote on the bill before April.

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