Today, the Daily News editorializes again about bringing structural reform to Harrisburg. The IOM editorial tackles what might be the biggest problem in the state capitol: the overwhelming influence of lobbyists on the legislative process.
Lobbyists don't just increase the power of special interests. They also diminish the voice of the general public, who don't have the money or expertise to influence the process. Lobbyists help balkanize public policy discussions by fighting for narrow interest groups instead of thinking about what's best for all Pennsylvanians.
The editorial notes that lobbyists spent more than $4.5 million lobbying the General Assembly during the budget crisis. According to Gov. Ed Rendell, the power of special interests was one of the reasons for the long delay. To that end, the Daily News offers some suggestions for beefing up the state's lobbying disclosure law.
No campaign contributions from lobbyists. Right now, there are no restrictions on how much a lobbyist can donate to elected officials. Since lobbyists are in the business of trying to influence public policy, this creates the appearance of corruption. Lobbyists should be banned from making campaign contributions.
Lower disclosure threshold. Lobbyists don't need to file a report unless they spend $2,500 or more. That amount should be reduced significantly, perhaps to $100 or even $1. Taxpayers have a right to know whenever a lobbyist tries to influence lawmakers, no matter how much money is spent.
Ban lawmakers from working as lobbyists. Right now, former elected officials are barred from lobbying the body they were a member of for two years. That rule is not strict enough. Here's an idea: If you hold elected office, you should be barred for life from lobbying the same institution. That's a worthwhile trade-off for the honor of representing the people of Pennsylvania.
More restrictions on legislative staffers. Dozens of former staffers now work as lobbyists, with absolutely no restrictions. The standard for staffers shouldn't be as high as legislators, but they should forced to wait at least two years before lobbying the place where they formerly worked.
What do you think? Would these regulations be fair? Or do they not go far enough?