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Editorial - Who spends how much?

June 16, 1997

Until this year, Maryland law governing disclosure of gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers was so strict that one Annapolis couple who planned to marry complained that their personal gifts were showing up in state reports. A bill to exempt such gifts from reporting passed the General Assembly March 30, but rules are still so tough that it's easy to determine how much certain interests - casino gambling, for example - are spending to influence legislation.

Pennsylvania should be so lucky. The lobbying law there, last modified in 1976, has so many loopholes that only 161 of the state's 848 registered lobbyists reported spending any money to influence legislation in 1995, the last year for which figures are available. That time lag and the lax requirements are both unacceptable.

State Sen. David Heckler, a Bucks County Republican, agrees. Under a bill he's introduced, every lobbyist would have to identify their clients to the state's Ethics Commission and the issues on which they're lobbying.

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The bill would also require lobbyists to divulge any links to Political Action Committees and report any expenditure related to lobbying.

In the absence of any scandal, why is this change needed?

Well, going back to the 1995 report, the 161 Pennsylvania lobbyists who did report any spending came up with a grand total of only $527,000. That's not peanuts, but in California that same year, which had 1,128 lobbyists to Pennsylvania's 1,009, the Californians said they spent $131.6 million. We must believe some dollars being spent in Pennsylvania aren't being disclosed.

We like Heckler's bill for two reasons: It covers PACs, which lobbyists can assist by serving as collection agents for individual donations. And it would require disclosure of all expenditures.

We're sure we'll hear about the difficulty of compliance with this bill, but tracking should be as easy as using a separate credit card for lobbying activities. Then the card issuer can do the paperwork, and Pennsylvanians can find out who's spending what to influence their lawmakers.

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