Thursday, January 27, 2011
Watchdog barks: Are lobbyists properly reporting when they throw parties for legislators?
by Larry Geller
Legislators hold fundraisers which can be attended by their constituents, supporters, and of course lobbyists. Lobbyists may also host events for legislators. Perhaps it’s to offer some information, perhaps it’s just entertainment. It’s what lobbyists do, they lobby.
All of this is supposed to be reported so that the public knows who is trying to influence whom, and how much is being spent on it. For better transparency, the records should, in our Internet age, be available on the web.
We may want not only to check up on lobbying expenditures, but also to check up on how well the Ethics Commission is doing its job of monitoring.
The Ethics Commission posts lobbyist and organization expenditure reports on-line. They collect but do not post the reports of lobbyists themselves. If you want to see those key documents, you’d have to go over to the Ethics Commission offices (tough for Neighbor Islanders) or go through a request process and possibly pay fees for copying.
We’re going to examine some situations that raise questions about the reporting process. This will be the first. Since it is based only on an examination of public records, there is no implication of wrongdoing, just the questions that anyone might have if they had these pages before them. I’ll forward a copy of this article to the Ethics Commission in case they wish to comment.
Since part of the information is not available to the public, the next question that arises is whether the Ethics Commission is properly checking the documents they do receive.
Let’s just dig into the files a little. These are just some questions at random, there is no particular reason for selecting this event to start with.. The reports are open for anyone to read, so here we go.
On January 14, 2010 the American Resort Development Association threw a bash at the posh Pacific Club. Without knowing how much they spent, let’s just assume that it was quite a bit, given the venue.
Here’s the invitation, sent to state legislators:.
Examining the reports is not easy. Here is the one that’s available on-line. It’s the report filed by the American Resort Development Association, the organization sponsoring the Pacific Club event, for the time period in which it occurred.
The form lists $15,000 in compensation paid to lobbyist Pacific Management Consultants. Of course, we don’t know what was done with that money. Could it relate to the Pacific Club event, at least in part?
Download ORG-A0072-2010-01 (these are unofficial copies, do not rely on them)
That $15,000 ought to be mirrored in the lobbyist reports. But check it out.
The lobbyist reports seem not to be posted on the Ethics Commission website. But they can be obtained the old-fashioned way.
Download ARDA - Lobbying Reports Jan-Feb 2010
There are three reports on file, each looking like a template copy of the other. They list ARDA as the first client, and all the numbers are goose eggs.
Yes, it is possible that payment was made for services to be delivered later. Still, there is the Pacific Club event not visible in these reports.
It is up to the Ethics Commission to review these reports and ask questions, particularly if the information is not completely available to the public. To look at the one posted expenditure report, which is all we ordinary citizens have, one might not suspect that there is more to be checked.
The Ethics Commission should, in the interests of transparency, make sure that the public has access to the complete picture. The lobbying reports should be posted in full. And I hope they will look into these particular documents to learn if there is an issue with the Pacific Club event.
I would hope for even more disclosure than we have—a list of legislators who attend lobbying events, for example. Perhaps that will require some new lawmaking.