Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Lutz Lobbying Bill A Good Idea

Sen. Larry Lutz (D-Evansville) has introduced a bill to give more teeth to Indiana's Lobby Law. SB 371 will require lobbyists to report expenditures they make for grassroots lobbying, a major loophole in the existing law which has been taken advantage of by Christian right organizations such as Advance America, the American Family Association of Indiana and the Indiana Family Institute.

Under Indiana's current Lobby Law, "lobbying" is defined as "communicating by any means, or paying others to communicate by any means with any legislative official." The definition has been narrowly construed by the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission. Many lobbying organizations utilize costly grassroots efforts to activate members of the general public to contact their legislators to urge a particular legislative action. Lutz bill will broaden the definition of "lobbying" to include communications "to inform the general public or urge the general public to take any action."

Lutz bill requires lobbyists to disclose the amount of expenditures they make for "advertising, mass mailings, publications or other efforts to inform the general public or to take any action of for the purpose of influencing any legislative action." They will also have to disclose the names and addresses of persons who contribute at least $500 for those grassroots lobbying efforts.

Another provision of Lutz bill requires a person who is not otherwise compensated to perform lobbying activities but expends at least $500 to lobby the legislature to register as a lobbyist. That provision appears to be redundant since the existing law already defines a lobbyist as any person who engages in lobbying and expends an aggregate of $500 in expenditures reportable under the law.

Anyone who has ever bothered to take a look at the lobbying reports filed by employer and compensated lobbyists will be struck by the relatively small amount of money reported as lobbying expenditures when it is quite apparent that these groups and individuals expend far greater sums for lobbying purposes. The grassroots lobbying loophole is just one example of why reported lobbying expenditures are so small. Because it is the non-profit organizations that often take advantage of this loophole and because these groups are severely limited by federal tax laws to the amount of their tax-subsidized dollars they may expend for lobbying purposes, more disclosure is a good thing from the public's standpoint.

SB 371 has been assigned to the Ethics Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Joe Zakas (R). You can bet that Advance America, the American Family Association of Indiana and the Indiana Family Institute will be working the hallways this session to make sure SB 371 dies in committee.

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