N.C. House approves new lobbying disclosure rules

By: - August 12, 2005 5:41 am

Rocky Mount Telegram
Associated Press Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. — People who lobby the General Assembly and top executive branch officials would have to file disclosure reports more often in a bill that cleared the House on Thursday night.

The measure, approved by a vote of 99-3, would require lobbyists and their principals to report any expenditures above $10. Legislative lobbyists, including those who lobby for state agencies, would have to file monthly reports while the General Assembly is in session, and quarterly otherwise.

The bill’s primary sponsor said the measure will boost the public’s confidence in the legislative process in much the same way tougher campaign finance reporting improve the image of elections.

A 2003 survey of the states’ lobbying laws gave North Carolina a failing grade when it came to disclosure requirements.

"It will replace a lot of suspicion with a lot of basic fact," said Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Orange. "I believe this will serve North Carolina well, and serve our General Assembly well."

The bill returns to the Senate, which passed a version earlier this year that capped spending on individual legislators at $100 annually but included a broad exception and retained biannual expense filings.

The Senate will finish most of its work for the year this weekend. If the Senate rejects the House version, a compromise could be finalized when the chambers reconvene later this month.

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill eliminate a long-standing "goodwill" loophole that allows lobbyists to treat legislators to unlimited meals and entertainment as long as no specific legislation is discussed. That loophole has prevented the public from seeing the whole picture on how lobbyists attempt to woo lawmakers.

By a 52-51 vote, the House trimmed the time period that former lawmakers would have to wait before lobbying the Legislature or executive branch until 60 days after they leave office.

The bill came on the floor with a "cooling-off" period one year after a House or Senate member’s two-year term would have expired.

"Every person has a fundamental right to have a job and provide for their families, and this part of the bill would prevent that for a year," said Rep. Drew Saunders, D-Mecklenburg, who supported the reduction.

Supporters say the cooling-off period is designed to prevent ex-lawmakers from quickly benefiting from their previous position to influence legislation. It’s also supposed to reduce the perception that a lawmakers earned a job by voting for specific legislation.

"The least we can do is to give them a one-year vacation from what some agree is a conflict of interest," Hackney said.

An earlier amendment for a 30-day cooling-off period failed by two votes.

The budget given final approval earlier Thursday sets aside $150,000 to help the Secretary of State’s Office, which regulates lobbying, to carry out the changes if it becomes law.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066