Archive for Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Lawmakers move toward easing lobbyist reporting

March 31, 2004


— In July 2000, lobbyists spent more than $15,600 one night wining and dining 25 Kansas lawmakers at a conference in Chicago.

The event was made public because of a law that required lobbyists to report on whom they spent money.

On Tuesday, a House-Senate conference committee, without comment, decided to exempt lobbyists from having to report their expenditures on lawmakers during such conferences.

"My personal opinion? It's not a good idea," Daniel Sevart, chairman of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, said of the proposed change. "I think the more sunshine, the better."

The committee also approved exempting information about a lobbyist taking an entire legislative committee to dinner.

The "Kansas Night" event in 2000 occurred during the National Conference of State Legislatures. More than 40 organizations with a wide range of interests before the Legislature treated the Kansas contingent of lawmakers, their spouses and staff members to a reception and dinner at Chicago's Metropolitan Club on the 67th floor of the Sears Tower. The tab was $15,616.

Under the legislation agreed to Tuesday, such national meetings where legislators gather would be exempt from the lobbyist reporting law.

Today, the conference committee was to consider further proposed changes to the reporting law -- changes that state ethics officials say will weaken public disclosure of the relationship between lobbyists and legislators.

Those include a provision that lobbyists would no longer be required to report whom they took out for a meal if the meal cost less than $25, and a provision that would eliminate the requirement that lobbyists maintain records of expenses they turn in on their disclosure reports.

Much of the conference committee's discussion Tuesday focused on the record-keeping change.

State Rep. Jim Yonally, R-Overland Park, said the requirement was unnecessary because the records simply would back up what the lobbyist already was required to report to the Ethics Commission. "What lobbyist would keep a record different than the report?" he said. "You'd be stupid to do that."

But Sevart said the records-retention requirement helped the Ethics Commission when it conducted audits to ensure lobbyists were telling the truth on their reports. He said there was no outcry to change the law, and that lobbyists had to keep their records for tax purposes anyway.

"I don't see where the law is broken," Sevart said.

The committee is expected to continue deliberations today.

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