Thursday, February 16, 2006

PA lobbyist info now online

Pennsylvanians’ interest in seeing full disclosure of lobbyist spending has resulted in legislators putting all of the lobbyist information that they receive online.

The state does not have a lobbyist disclosure law, but the state Senate has a disclosure rule that requires all lobbyists dealing with the state Senate to register annually and report their spending quarterly. The rule also requires all organizations that are represented by lobbyists in dealings with the state Senate to register annually.

Until recently, the public could get just a glimpse online at the PA Senate’s web site of the scope of lobbying in the state. Organizations were listed and individual lobbyists were named. A general report of overall spending figures gathered by the PA Senate was available previously, but not online. A full accounting of spending, and a breakdown of how much each company is spending, was not readily available to the public.

Now, the lobbyist disclosure reports collected by the state Senate since the start of 2003 are available to the public online. The information can be found here.

PA Senator Robert C. Jubelirer (R-Altoona), who sponsored legislation that would require all lobbyists dealing with state officials to register annually and report expenses, thinks many people will be interested in the newly available information.

“There has been a lot of public interest in the summaries we released recently. We are now making available all the information we have received. Our Senate Rule alone cannot compel a complete picture of lobbying activity, but it does provide substantial and useful information to our citizens,” Jubelirer said.

The call for more open records on lobbying activity has been raised throughout the state, said Jubelier’s legal counsel, Drew Crompton, who wrote the lobbyist legislation.

“We have generally tried to stir up articles and interest regarding lobbying. In the past, [news stories on the issue] came very few and far between,” Crompton said. “I think that because just about every newspaper in the state has written [about lobbyist disclosure], that has given the issue more momentum than it has had for years.”

Jubelier noted that citizens would be able to see who is lobbying, who individuals are representing, and how they are spending their money. They will be able to see the number of clients each lobbyist has and what each lobbyist is spending per client.

“This is important information that every Pennsylvanian should have the opportunity to examine,” Jubelirer said. “In addition to giving Pennsylvanians a clear look at this information, it will provide a basis of comparison once we succeed in securing a new state law that will apply disclosure requirements to the activity affecting other parts of state government.”

Lobbyists are only required to report their spending as it affects the Senate, but they are allowed to report their entire spending, including all of the spending they do on other parts of state government. Some lobbying firms report all their expenses through one individual, and the other associates then show a zero on their filings. This is allowable, but the forms should indicate the connection, according to officials at Jubelier’s office.

Crompton said he is not surprised that there is a growing interest in lobbyist disclosure.

“If you asked me six months ago if there’d be a state law on lobbyist disclosure in 2006, I’d have said yes, because of the upcoming election,” Crompton said.

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