04/16/04 — Lobbyists: They can provide important services

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Lobbyists: They can provide important services

A council created by Secretary of State Elaine Marshall has recommended some stringent public accounting of expenditures and favors that lobbyists or their clients make in behalf of legislators.

This would include picking up the tab for meals or entertainment, or providing transportation to legislators — individually or in groups — even if no business is discussed in any of these instances.

The intent is perceived as a way to “keep the lawmakers honest,” assuring the public that their elected representatives won’t be selling out their constituents’ best interests for a steak at the Angus Barn, a ticket to a basketball game or a night on the town.

Perhaps some tighter rules can be justified on the grounds that among the hundreds of elected officials, there could be a few whose integrity might be suspect. But comfort also can be taken in the fact that final votes on all issues are a matter of public record — and lawmakers are answerable in the end to their constituents.

That is the ultimate accountability.

And let us be mindful that “lobbyists” aren’t delegates from some sinister empire plotting against the public interest. They represent legitimate businesses, organizations and worthwhile interest groups — farmers, educators, local governments, small businesses.

They play an important role in informing elected officials of the effects — pro or con — that proposed legislation might have on the businesses or organizations or institutions they represent.

Most legislators need and appreciate such information.

Final decisions are made by the lawmakers themselves, usually after hearing from all sides, and especially from the folks back home.

It would be a shortsighted lobbyist who, by bribery or misrepresentation, convinces legislators to do something that would alienate those who elected them.

And it would be a short-term politician who would sell out for a beef steak or a ball game.

Published in Editorials on April 16, 2004 11:03 AM