Tuesday, January 24, 2012

SB 244 - Creating A Run Around Indiana's Lobbying Laws

Indiana law currently requires that lobbyists register and report all gifts made to all Legislators and the Governor.  But, with the ink barely dry, exceptions are being considered by the General Assembly.  Here's how Scott Smith of the Kokomo Tribune frames the situation:

One of the cornerstones of the Indiana General Assembly’s 2010 ethics reform bill was a ban on lobbyist-funded, out-of-state travel for legislators.

As it turns out, the ban isn’t quite an iron-clad rule.

And two years after the bill’s passage, legislators are busy trying to carve out additional exemptions to the rules.

If lobbyists can’t directly pay for a state legislator to go on a junket, they have another option.

By simply paying for membership in a group like the American Legislative Exchange Council, which brings together corporate lobbyists and a host of conservative legislators at conferences around the country, the lobbyists get unfettered access to influential legislators.
But, we get ahead of ourselves.  Let's start at the beginning.  Here is what the Indiana Code currently says about lobbying, in part:
IC 2-7-1-10
"Lobbyist" Sec. 10. (a) "Lobbyist" means any person who:
(1) engages in lobbying; and
(2) in any registration year, receives or expends an aggregate of at least five hundred dollars ($500) in compensation or expenditures reportable under this article for lobbying, whether the compensation or expenditure is solely for lobbying or the lobbying is incidental to that individual's regular employment.
(b) The following are not considered lobbyists:
(1) A public employee or public official.
(2) The National Conference of State Legislatures.
(3) The National Conference of Insurance Legislators.
(4) The American Legislative Exchange Council.
(5) Women in Government.
(6) The Council of State Governments.
(7) The National Black Caucus of State Legislators.
(8) Any other national organization established for the education and support of legislative leadership, legislators, legislative staff, or related government employees.
It must be that the activities of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, the National Assembly of Sportsmen's Caucuses, and the State Agriculture and Rural Leaders Association, are not clearly ones of education and thus exempt by # 8 of this definition.  These three groups are the subject of individualized legislation in the form of Senate Bill 244, which would codify their unique exemption status by naming them as groups who are not considered lobbyists.

So, who are these groups, how do they interact with our Legislators in particular, and where does the money come to support those interactions.

The CSF appears to be the parent of the NASC.  Their combined website is: http://www.sportsmenslink.org/.   

CSF has several events each year, among which is an Annual Banquet and Auction fundraiser.  This was last held on September 14 with individual tickets going for $1000 or a table of 8 for $6000, but with two seats reserved for VIPS.  Got to wonder who the VIPs were and who paid for the seats.  That information I could not find.

But, they do list their 'partners' on the CSF website.  These include such notable hunting and fishing sportsmen's groups as Alergen, Bayer Cropscience, CONSOL Energy, Oracle, Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, BP America, Inc., Chief Oil & Gas, The Coca-Cola Company, Lockheed Martin, Novartis, Sanofi Pasteur, United States Steel Corporation, Aflac, Capitol Hill Consulting Group, National Mining Association, and NASCAR.

The NASC lists as its 'partners', among others, Comcast, Shell Oil, Aflac, Daimler, Exxon Mobile, Rubber Manufacturer's Association, and America's Natural Gas Alliance.

The website also notes legislation they'd like to see enacted.  Here's just one and how they describe it (emphasis mine):
Voter Registration
Encouraging sportsmen’s involvement in the political process is an important method for preserving our outdoor heritage. Increased participation helps ensure that the sportsmen’s voice is heard, particularly though the ballot box, which also strengthens the sportsmen’s ability to collectively defeat anti-sportsmen groups. Facilitating voter registration for sportsmen at the time they purchase their sportsmen’s licenses is one way to increase the number of registered sportsmen voters.
By incorporating the views of our partners and other state legislators who have passed this legislation, we present the following language:
“Each application to obtain a resident hunting, fishing, or trapping license issued by the (Department of Natural Resources/State Wildlife Agency) and made by an applicant who is within six months of such applicant's eighteenth birthday or older shall also serve as an application for voter registration unless the applicant declines to register to vote through specific declination or by failing to sign the voter registration application. (The Board of Natural Resources/State Wildlife Agency) and the Secretary of State shall agree upon and design such procedures and forms as will be necessary to comply with this Code section, including without limitation procedures applicable to processing of applications received by persons approved as license agents for the (Department of Natural Resources).”

Points of Interest
It is the duty of each caucus leadership team to determine the best means of action in your respective state and modify the above language as necessary.

The issue was introduced at the inaugural NASC Annual Meeting in 2004 by a Georgia legislator and was issued as a NASC issue brief during the 2005 legislative session. Sportsmen’s caucuses in Florida and Georgia have passed similar legislation and attempts have been made in at least six other states.
Just in case you were ready to buy into their role in education of Legislators, let me also link you to two places where CSF posted a job opening this past year for a fundraiser.  In one place they described THEMSELVES as an "Advocacy, Environment" organization.  In the other they say :
The Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, which coordinates interaction and idea exchange among federal and state legislators, sportsmen's groups, industry, and outdoor media to advance a pro-sportsmen's agenda in the U.S. Congress and state capitals, is seeking an Outreach Coordinator.
Clearly, the CSF and NASC are pushing for specific legislation and thus do not deserve an exemption from Indiana's lobbying laws.  They can also serve as a means to give their 'partners', current and future, a run around our laws by giving money to these groups and gaining face time with Legislators through the groups' events.

The State Agriculture and Rural Leaders group also has interesting 'partners' and educational methods.  The SARL website is http://www.agandruralleaders.org/.  They have an Annual Summit where invited Legislators listen to briefings and then adopt Resolutions.  The Summit was just held on January 6-8 in our Nation's Capital. 

Summit 'Partners' include, among others, BASF, Biotechnology Industry Organizations, International Associations of Fairs and Expositions, Kraft Foods, Land-O-Lakes, and Wine America.  At least their partners are not so far afield from the organization's base as those of the CSF and NASC.

The topic of the first Plenary Session was "How state/provincial policy makers can support our producers and communities".  During the Summit, the gathering adopted 10 Resolutions.  Here is one, just selected solely on the basis of its brevity (emphasis in last paragraph is mine):
2012 Legislative Agriculture Chairs Summit  
Resolution on Country of Origin Labeling

the State Ag and Rural Leaders, (SARL) is comprised of agriculture and rural leaders of state and provincial legislative bodies from the US and Canada; and

Whereas,the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) legislation has been a source of trade dispute between the U.S. and Canada; and

Whereas, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled that the means by which COOL was implemented is not consistent with U.S. trade obligations; and

Whereas, the strength of the U.S.-Canadian trade relationship has created jobs and financial growth in both countries; and now therefore be it

Resolved, that SARL encourages the U.S. to waive an appeal of the WTO Dispute Panel’s ruling on COOL and further encourages the United States Congress to make a legislative amendment that would bring COOL into conformity with the U.S. WTO obligations without hindering the ability of the United States to continue to implement COOL for informed consumer decisions.
That sounds more like suggesting specific legislation than education.  The very fact that Legislators attending the Annual Summit are the ones actively adopting the Resolutions is a bit much.  Again, this group should not be exempt from our lobbying laws.
As far as news from the media on SB244, I have only found previously cited article by Scott Smith of the Kokomo Tribune.

I had not heard of this bill until Saturday, when Julia Vaughn, Policy Director of Common Cause of Indiana, was a Guest Presenter at McANA meeting.  That meeting is being televised by Channel 16, and you can access it from their archives.  Scroll down to 'other meetings' and select Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations (Jan 21, 2012).

Vaughn provided me with this statement:
This bill would allow these groups, who appear to be funded by a diverse treasure trove of corporate and trade industry organizations, to fly Indiana legislators out-of-state for "educational" events where they will be greeted by the same lobbyists who are prohibited from funding out-of-state travel for legislators.  These exempted groups could provide a convenient way for big money special interests to avoid having to disclose their lobbying expenditures and get around the ban on lobbyist paid out of state travel.  It's a bill that weakens transparency and citizens should call their Senators ASAP and ask them to vote NO.        
You can find your Senator and their contact information here.

Lets not let them weaken the lobbying rules by, knowingly or not, putting in place a great runaround of the intent of our recently enacted lobbyist activities and gifting laws.

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