Thursday, January 18, 2001

Lobbyists excused from monthly reports

The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT, Ky. — Lobbyists won't be filing monthly reports on how much money they spend to influence the 2001 General Assembly under what some say is a newly revealed flaw in the ethics law.

        “We will ultimately know what has been spent to lobby. We just won't know it as soon as we would in an even-year session,” said Anthony Wilhoit, executive director of the ethics commission.

        In even-year legislative sessions, lobbying groups are required to file monthly disclosure reports with the Legislative Ethics Commission.

        The ethics law, which was approved in the early 1990s, didn't take into account the possibility that voters would amend the constitution to allow for odd-year meetings of the legislature, Mr. Wilhoit said.

        In odd years, the law only requires lobbyists and lobbying groups to file reports on Jan. 15, May 15 and Sept. 15.

        “As a practical matter, most of the session this year will be in February,” Mr. Wilhoit said.

        More frequent reporting during a session is an important way for the public to keep track of what's really happening in Frankfort, said Bill Lear, a former state representative who was a key architect of the ethics law.

        The reports require businesses, associations and other groups to show how much they've spent on lobbyists' salaries, receptions and meals for legislatures and other expenses. Groups also are asked to disclose which bills they've been following.

        “More things change more quickly during a session,” Mr. Lear said. “So there's a greater need for disclosure.”

        Mr. Wilhoit said the ethics commission has drafted a bill that would require monthly reporting for lobbyists. The bill has not been filed yet.

        House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said the measure could be passed as an “emergency clause” and take effect when the governor signs it.

        “I think the House can pass something like that pretty quickly. I can't imagine anyone being against it,” said Richards.

        Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, said he is willing to add an amendment to an ethics bill, Senate Bill 1, to close the reporting loophole.

        The first round of 2001 lobbying reports, which were due Tuesday, show lobbying groups spent more than $1.1 million during the four months leading up to the 2001 session. That is less than the $1.6 million spent in the four months leading up to the 2000 session.

        Health care, insurance, business and economic development and tobacco-related legislation drew the most in lobbyist spending.

        The odd-year session lasts for only 30 days and few controversial issues have risen during the 2001 session.


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