Why we need enhanced lobbyist disclosure.

I’m a proponent of overhauling the lobbyist disclosure statements used in Virginia. Lobbyists—and, more important, legislators—get away with having to provide vanishingly little information about who is seeking to influence legislation, who they’re trying to influence, and how they’re doing it.

Del. Sam Nixon’s HB1883 proposes to fix this, though my understanding is that the bill is functionally dead. A friend recently wrote this hypothetical script to demonstrate to me one reason why this bill is necessary:

A senator and lobbyist enjoy a quiet evening in a fine restaurant. The waiter places the check, which comes to $150, on the table.

Senator: (Reaching for the check) Let me get this…
Lobbyist: (Snatching the check). My treat.
Senator: Thank you for the nice dinner.
Lobbyist: My pleasure. Only it was not a dinner; it was five dinners.
Senator: (Tugging at his waist) And I thought it was the cannoli.
Lobbyist: No, I have five clients and I’ll split the tab.
Senator: So, that comes out to, what, like thirty bucks each?
Lobbyist: You got it. This meal never happened.
Senator: (Chuckles) What meal?
Lobbyist: Exactly.
Senator: Let’s NOT do it again soon.

HB1883 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Rules Committee tomorrow, and they’re actually meeting, which sounds good. But Rules committees seem to exist as a sort of a Siberia for bills—they’re not dead, but they’re definitely not coming back. That, unfortunately, is bound to be HB1883’s fate.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »