The House approved a bill (HB 1849) yesterday that would prohibit lobbyists from giving gifts to legislators, although they could still donate to political candidates. The new rules were developed from a special House panel recommendation earlier this year. It builds upon a 2005 lobbying reform package that was approved last year by legislators that will take effect in January and was designed to make lobbying activities more transparent by adopting greater reporting requirements. Some wanted that law to go further, particularly on the issue of lobbyists’ gifts to legislators.
The lobbying bill would merge separate rules for registering legislative and executive branch lobbyists with the Secretary of State’s Office under one law. Lobbyists or their principals would be barred from giving gifts to legislators, the governor, Council of State members, and their top assistants. Exemptions would be made for meals and drinks at public events such as receptions and trinkets worth less than $10. The bill also would require each lobbyist to restrict his or her total giving to candidates to $4000 per election cycle. An earlier version would have barred all donations, but several legislators and legal experts argued that the courts could rule such a prohibition unconstitutional. The proposed restriction also deletes an earlier provision that would have barred a lobbyist from soliciting donations on behalf of a candidate.
The legislation was one of ten recommendations by the House Select Committee on Ethics and Governmental Reform, on which I sat. The House has now passed nine campaign finance and ethics reform bills recommended by the committee.