Concern grows over unregistered lobbyists

Watchdogs at the State Capitol are concerned that a growing number of people who lobby for or against legislation are avoiding registering with the state and disclosing their activities.

“There is nothing wrong with lobbying,” Stefan Ritter, state ethics commission executive director, said. “But the public should be able to look at who is lobbying.”

State law is clear: Anyone receiving as little as $250 a year to promote or oppose legislation has to register as a lobbyist. They also have to disclose who they are working for and what they spend to entice public officials. The problem is there are a lot of loopholes.

State government lobbyists don’t have to register and historically they have been among the most generous spenders when discussing their agency budgets with lawmakers. Lawyers can avoid registering by claiming they are not lobbying at the Capitol but merely representing their clients.

Corporate executives and single-issue advocates also avoid registration, although some at the Capitol would like that changed.

Longtime Capitol lobbyist Trip Martin last year filed a complaint against national anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist claiming Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform should be required to register with the state. At the time, Norquist’s organization had issued statements against a transportation tax bill, but denied they met the legal definition of lobbyists.

Does the state need to get tough on unregistered lobbying? Read this week's AJC Watchdog here for more on this important government transparency issue.