03/24/05 — Consensus: Nearly everybody wants lobbying bill to be passed

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Consensus: Nearly everybody wants lobbying bill to be passed

When Art Pope and Wib Gulley were in the Legislature, they found little more to agree on than an N.C. State fan and a Duke fan during March Madness.

Pope is a conservative Republican from Raleigh, and Gulley is a liberal Democrat from Durham.

Likewise, the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group advocates for liberal causes, and the John Locke Foundation is a conservative institute.

But there is one issue on which all of these people and organizations agree wholeheartedly. That is a bill that would change the rules on the lobbyists who wine and dine members of the General Assembly.

If the bill passed, there would be more public scrutiny of this legalized buying of influence. Lobbyists would have to file reports on how much they spent on a legislator, and for what.

The new rules would also limit the amount the lobbyists can spend on lawmakers.

A lot of people want this bill to be passed. In addition to Pope, Gulley, the Public Interest Research Group and the John Locke Foundation, backers of the bill include such diverse groups as the North Carolina AFL-CIO, the N.C. Alliance for Health, the N.C. Environmental Defense Fund, the Housing Coalition, the Justice and Community Development Center, the Institute for Constitutional Law ... and the list goes on.

In this case, the conventional wisdom hits close to the mark. Close, but not right on it, because the portion of the bill limiting expenditures is somewhat troublesome from a free-speech perspective.

If a lobbyist wants to buy a steak dinner for a legislator and ply him with wine, that’s all right. But when the legislator votes on a bill that the lobbyist is pushing, the people have a right to know that the steak and wine are in the background.

Of course, not all lawmakers yield to the temptations that are dangled before them in Raleigh. Wayne County’s legislators are probably among the innocent.

Not all lobbyists are bad, either. In fact, the Legislature would be worse off if lobbyists weren’t around to explain the issues and the effects of proposed bills. Educating lawmakers is honest work.

Unfortunately, though, there are some corrupt lawmakers and some unscrupulous lobbyists. If we can’t depend on the integrity of some of our lawmakers, maybe we need better control of their seducers.

Published in Editorials on March 24, 2005 11:55 AM