The Anniston Star has an eye-opening editorial about the influence of lobbyists on our Alabama lawmakers. Under current law, registered lobbyists are only required to report expenditures greater than $250 per day on public officials, and those who lobby the Executive Branch are not required to register with the Ethics Commission. Senate Bill 288, which is currently making its way through the legislative maze, would require all lobbyists to register and to report every dollar spent on public officials.
So right now lobbyists can spend up to $250 per day, with no accountability, on each legislator that they want to influence. I don’t know about you, but I’d find it hard to ignore input from someone who was lavishing that kind of money on me. The average constituent doesn’t contribute that much per political campaign every four years.
Of course, the lobbyists’ financial largesse gives them almost unlimited access to our elected officials. Not only do they hang out in the halls of the State House, now they’re finding their way into committee meetings and public hearings.
For some time, critics of the lobbying tactics of the Alabama Education Association have complained about executive secretary Dr. Paul Hubbert working the floor during committee meetings, making sure lawmakers know that he is there and that the AEA is watching.
More recently, in the House committee debate over whether the people of Alabama should decide for themselves if a constitutional convention should be called, The Huntsville Times reported how “Paul Pinyan, an Alfa lobbyist, continually whispered into the ears of members.”
Alfa, it should be noted, is categorically opposed to constitutional reform because its constituents might end up paying reasonable property taxes on their land. Alabama has the lowest property taxes in the US, so low that if they were doubled, they’d still be the lowest. Out-of-state timber companies and agribusinesses love to own land here. They get to use our natural resources for pennies on the acre, and they don’t give a damn if our schools suck or our poorest citizens are overburdened with high sales taxes and income taxes that kick in when a family of four makes $4,600 a year.
How was it that a lobbyist could get so close to committee members during a meeting? And what was he whispering? And to whom?
Was he bending the ear of local representative Randy Wood? Telling him to forget that back in 2002 he told The Anniston Star, “If we’re going to ever grow in Alabama, we’ve got to have a new Constitution.”?
Was he telling Rep. Steve Hurst from Mumford that no one would remember that back in 2002 he told the Talladega Daily Home, “Yes, (the Constitution) should be changed. How should we do it? Let the people vote on how they want it done.”
If that was what Pinyan was doing, he did his work well, because both men decided to vote the lobbyist’s line.
I’ve heard my very own state senator say that he depends heavily on lobbyists to provide information about the myriad bills that are proposed each session. He should be depending on his constituents to keep him informed of their wishes, but unfortunately we don’t speak up often or loudly enough to counterbalance the people who spend all their time and money in Montgomery working the system.
If SB288 passes, at least we’ll know who is buying our legislators and which legislators are allowing themselves to be bought. I’m betting it will face major opposition from lobbyists who will claim that its requirements are too “cumbersome” or “intrusive”. But I see it as a big step in taking back our government.
Hat tip to Don Seibold at Dr. IQ.