Monday, January 30, 2006

Senate Dems Upset With GOP For Blocking Lobbyist Reform

Senate Democrats are letting it be known that they are none too happy that Senate President Pro Tem Robert Garton (R-Columbus) is blocking lobbying reform legislation offered by Sen. Larry Lutz (D-Evansville). SB 371 seeks to open up to public disclosure amounts spent by individuals, businesses and organizations on grassroots lobbying.

“These organizations are attempting to influence legislation by going through the public, and we don’t even know who they are,” said Lutz “We don’t know where their money is coming from or why they are interested in the success or failure of certain legislation. For the public to make an informed decision on what they are hearing, they should be required to disclose everything.”

The Senate Democrat statement specifically references television and radio ads on telecommunications reform and Major Moves, the Governor's plan to privatize the Indiana Toll Road as part of a massive transportation construction program. “We have groups like the governor’s Aiming Higher Inc., which is currently running radio advertisements asking the public to support Major Moves,” said Lutz. “However they don’t have to disclose anything. I wonder if somewhere in their list of donations they have something from one of those companies that are bidding for the operation of the Toll Road.”

As we previously reported, SB 371 would require these groups to report all expenditures designed to inform or urge the general public to take action for the purpose of influencing legislation. This includes any advertising, mass mailings, publications or other marketing efforts. The proposal would have also required these groups to release where they received their funding. Senator Garton assigned the bill to the Rules Committee, where it died for lack of a hearing.

“This bill simply sought to create greater transparency in the process, and for the Senate Republicans to block it is shameful. What are they trying to hide and who are they trying to protect?”Lutz said. “Hoosiers have a right to know who is trying to influence them, legislation and their government officials and why,” added Lutz. “This is a debate that needs to happen.”

A group Lutz' press release doesn't mention which takes advantage of this loophole is Eric Miller's Advance America. The Christian right organization's leader gloated last week about the defeat of the bill. He falsely portrayed it to his followers as "an attempt to stop public involvement in the legislative process" and an effort "to intimidate and stop individuals from communicating with the friends, neighbors, relatives, etc. about a specific issue and urging them to get involved in the legislative process."

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