Legislature(2003 - 2004)
02/28/2003 01:05 PM JUD
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 106 - DEFINITION OF LOBBYING Number 0378 CHAIR McGUIRE announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 106, "An Act amending the definition of 'lobbyist' in the Regulation of Lobbying Act, and as it applies in the act setting standards of conduct for legislators and legislative employees, to define 'regular' and 'substantial' as those terms describe activities for which a person receives consideration for the purpose of influencing legislative or administrative action." Number 0430 JOE MATHIS, Senior Operations Manager, Nana Development Corporation, testified in support of HB 106. He opined that the current statute "greatly inhibits any normal business person from participating in the public process." Noting that a person who spends more than four hours in a 30-day period speaking to [elected officials] is required to register as a lobbyist, he offered his belief that this is an unreasonable [restriction], since he does not want to have to register as a lobbyist and, yet, it is virtually impossible to come to Juneau and speak with 60 legislators within that four-hour time period. He mentioned that it is pretty hard [for him] to track just how much time he spends in contact with legislators regarding a variety of issues, but if he exceeds the four-hour time period stipulated in current law, he is required to register as a lobbyist, pay a registration fee, provide personal financial information for public scrutiny, file reports, and be subject to significant fines. MR. MATHIS said that Nana Development Corporation has approximately 30 affiliated businesses and subsidiaries. He relayed that there is always legislation pending that affects his business and, therefore, it very easy for either a business associate or himself to use up that four-hour allotment and, in doing so, they all become subject to the current registration requirements for lobbyists. He remarked that once one becomes a lobbyist, he/she is prohibited from actively working in campaigns or making contributions outside of his/her district. He opined that these restrictions preclude "bona fide business people" from becoming involved in the "business process." He urged the committee to pass HB 106. Number 0695 STEVE CLEARY, Executive Director, Alaska Public Interest Research Group (AkPIRG), relayed that AkPIRG is opposed to HB 106 because it believes that the bill will gut the regulations pertaining to lobbying to such a degree that no one will be required to register as a lobbyist. He elaborated: This is bad public policy and will further erode the public's trust in the political system, allowing special interests to influence legislators. Since statehood, Alaska has had a law regulating lobbyists, and this revision to it would render that law useless. This current legislation would override a 26-year-old regulation. The ability to transparently see who's attempting to influence our legislators is something the public has come to depend on, and this bill will greatly decrease that transparency and expand the power of special interests over our political system. ... Currently, registered lobbyists are not able to host fundraisers, nor are they able to donate to candidates outside their legislative district. And the limit of four hours is exactly that; ... if you're going to go and just talk to your legislator and engage in direct communication, four hours is definitely a long time. But if you're going to influence people outside your legislative district, which is the definition of lobbying, then you should be subject to limits, and you should not be able to donate to people outside your legislative district, nor hold fundraisers for those people. And there are two ways to attempt to get around that provision. First, you could attempt to directly remove it and say that lobbyists should be allowed to hold fundraisers or donate to those candidates. Or, secondly, ... you could change who needs to register as a lobbyist, thus exempting those folks from the fundraiser and donation ban. This legislation appears to be an attempt to do that, and we think that's a poor idea. The definitions in this bill for "regular" and "substantial" are not adequate to capture all the people currently engaging in lobbying. And If we put the standard at 30 days and 40 hours, we're going to miss a lot of people who are lobbyists, and the public needs to know this information. Number 0851 MR. CLEARY continued: Today I went to the APOC [Alaska Public Offices Commission] web site and printed out the number of lobbyists currently registered in the state of Alaska; there are 178, by my count, and ... I don't know how many of these people would then ... not have to register as lobbyists and why the people of the state of Alaska would be served by that. Now, according to the Center for Public Integrity, ... in 1999 and 2000 - both those years - nearly $11 million was spent on lobbying in Alaska, making the state 12th in the nation for most lobby expenditures; 331 special interests registered in those years. So, if we're looking at trying to decrease the amount of special- interest control and persuasion on our legislature, the best way to do that is by transparently showing who is trying to influence our legislative branch and who's hiring those people. So, just to sum up: This is bad public policy and AkPIRG would like you to vote against this bill and not pass it out of committee. MR. CLEARY, in response to questions, said he would be available at the next hearing on HB 106 and would provide the committee with written comments and suggestions. Number 0913 MARY KATHRYN THOMAS, Owner, Arctech Services, relayed that her company is a family-owned small business, and that they are oilfield contractors, loggers - harvesting beetle-kill timber, and own a trucking business. She mentioned that in looking at the APOC definition, she has probably gone over the four-hour, thirty-day limit for many years when speaking to legislators. She relayed that in working with different organizations, including serving on various boards, she has come before the legislature to speak on issues of concern to those organizations. She mentioned that having to register as a lobbyist would also require making disclosures. She relayed that while large businesses can afford to hire a dedicated lobbyist who will keep his/her duties separate from the normal duties of running a business, small businesses can't afford do that, adding that when she is lobbying for her business, she is exposing her business interests. She said that she has concerns because in order for her to adequately address her business's needs, she has to interact a lot with the legislative branch as well as with agencies in the executive branch. She also relayed that similar to her wanting to represent her business interests, she also wants to be able to put her name on the "sponsorship of a candidate's fundraiser." She said that she would like to see HB 106 move forward. Number 1144 GINGER STOCK, Owner, WebWeavers, LLC; Member, Board of Directors, Alaska State Chamber [of Commerce (ASCC)], testified in support of HB 106. She opined that four hours is not a significant amount of time, and that currently, the regulations pertaining to and the definition of lobbyist seem limiting and unproductive for those who are trying to do business in Alaska. She urged the committee to support HB 106. Number 1250 LARRY CREWS; Alaska State Chamber of Commerce (ASCC); Greater Sitka Chamber of Commerce, remarked that in addition to these organizations, he is also speaking as a small business owner. He offered his belief that the four-hour-per-month limitation is inadequate. He opined that no time limit should be set for non- compensated persons, but that if one is required, it should be a more reasonable amount of time, such as 30 or 40 hours per month. He said that he does not feel that he should have to register as a lobbyist simply because he has to spend six hours' cumulative time each month, for example, with his representatives. He asked the committee to consider the small business owners who periodically need the help of government officials, and to not make it any harder than it already is for those people seeking the help they need. Number 1328 DAN F. KENNEDY, CPA, Owner, Kennedy & Company, LLC, testified in support of HB 106. Speaking on behalf of himself and his business partner, he said that they were very excited to see committee support of HB 106. He mentioned that he is a board member of the Alaska Society of Certified Public Accountants (ASCPA), and a past president of the "Greater Wasilla Chamber of Commerce." He opined that changing the definitions is very important in order for small businesses to have access to the decision-makers within state government. He relayed that he refers to the current four-hour standard as a draconian restriction. Number 1436 TONY KRIER, Owner, Tony's Rentals, said that he supports the comments of Mr. Mathis and Ms. Thomas. He indicated that when he contacts his legislators, he has to do so via telephone and, thus, he has probably gone over the four-hour time limit. In closing, he said that he supports HB 106. Number 1497 GRAHAM G. STOREY, Executive Director, Nome Chamber of Commerce, said that he supports HB 106. He offered his belief that the points made by Mr. Cleary do not reflect the realities of rural Alaska. Mr. Storey noted that only two members of the legislature represent the Nome area; thus, he opined, for "all those other issues out there," [Nome residents] have no voice. He remarked that whenever access to government is expanded, it is an excellent public policy. In response to a question, he suggested that the problem with the current law is that the four-hour limit for talking to legislators and other government officials does not provide enough time to address all the issues that might be of importance to a particular small business or community. CHAIR McGUIRE remarked that whenever the committee considers pending legislation and current statutes, it is important to keep in mind the impact on the entire state. Number 1641 ROBERT VENABLES, Haines Chamber of Commerce, asked the committee to support HB 106. He opined that clarifying the terms "regular" and "substantial" will better reflect what a businessperson's time commitment must be in order to effectively communicate with the legislature. Four hours per month is hardly a substantial amount of time, he remarked, noting that it would merely amount to a person being able to spend only about 6 minutes with each legislator. "The business community wants to be involved with the legislature, and if we're to take the time and expense to come down to the state capitol to discuss issues that are important to us, then we would ask to not be penalized for those efforts," he added. In conclusion, he relayed the 135 members of the Haines Chamber of Commerce would like to thank the legislature for its efforts in making state government work better for the people across the state who are in business. Number 1745 ANDREE McLEOD, by way of introduction, said that in addition to being a citizen of Alaska, she is a "public member living outside the capital when the legislature is in session." She went on to say: If you want a more educated voter, a more involved citizenry, and a more responsive government, you will not pass this bill out of committee. At a time in this country when there should be as much openness and dialog as possible between the government and the people about what government is doing, to propose a blatant circumvention of well-written laws regarding the openness and candor of lobbyists' government activity is clearly a betrayal not only of the people of Alaska, but of the democratic process itself. MS. McLEOD indicated that she would be able to offer further testimony when HB 106 is next heard CHAIR McGUIRE relayed that representatives from the APOC and from the ASCC would testify at the next hearing on HB 106, and that further public testimony would also be heard at that time. She announced that HB 106 would be held over.