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Lawyers shouldn't elude Pennsylvania lobbyist law

June 08, 1999

Pennsylvania's new Lobbyist Disclosure Act was an attempt to fix a 38-year-old statute so flawed it made it impossible for citizens to find out who was spending how much to influence members of the state legislature. Now some of those lobbyists have come up with an argument they feel will allow them to evade the provisions of new law altogether.

In a suit filed in state Commonwealth Court, two Harrisburg, Pa. attorneys say that the law doesn't apply to them because they're lawyers, and that under the state constitution, the only body allowed to regulate lawyers is the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

If the Commonwealth Court buys that argument, it would mean the effective end of the bill, which contains a clause saying that if lawyers don't have to file the required disclosure reports, neither do the so-called citizen lobbyists.

About 800 lobbyists - citizens and lawyers - would be required to file detailed reports about themselves, their clients and their activities if the bill takes effect as planned on August 1 of this year. Proponents have to hope that the court agrees with state Sen. Allen Kukovich, a co-sponsor of the bill.

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Kukovich, a a lawyer himself, says there's a difference between practicing law and attempting to affect public policy. Lobbying is an activity distinct and different from lawyering, Kukovich said, so the disclosure bill should apply.

We agree. There's no requirement that a lobbyist also be a lawyer, and the fact that some are ought not to exempt them from this new law, any more than being a lawyer would exempt someone who owns a restauarant from complying with health codes, for example.

Accepting lawyers' contention that they're exempt from this law would mean citizens would have no way of knowing who was trying to influence public policy and how much they were spending to do it. That doesn't mean the court won't overturn the law, however.

If it does, lawmakers need to draft a constitutional amendment to make it clear that when they're not in court, lawyer-lobbysists are governed by a whole other set of rules.

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