A lobbyist disclosure bill that if signed into law would be one of the strictest in the country got a boost after clearing a committee of conference between the two chambers.
The House suspended its rules late Thursday to allow the Senate to take up S.93 Friday paving the way for passage before adjournment, which is still anticipated to be Saturday.
Reps. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington, and Patti Komline, R-Dorset, sponsored an amendment that became part of S.93, which they said will keep lawmakers from holding fundraising events with lobbyists during the legislative biennium. The measure would also prohibit “lobbyists, lobbying firms, and lobbyist employers from contributing to legislative leadership political committees” throughout a biennium.
It was unclear for much of the day if the rules would be suspended to allow a vote in the House. Komline and Wright said House Speaker Shap Smith wanted to let the bill wither on the vine.
PACs run by the Speaker and the Senate Pro Tem are particularly appealing to lobbyists and their clients, because those offices hold the most sway over the “passage or failure of bills,” Komline said.
Turner confirmed Smith was initially opposed to suspending the rules for S.93 on Thursday, but he would not speculate on Smith’s motives.
Asked by VTDigger if he was trying to block the disclosure bill Smith said, “If I wanted to kill a bill it would be dead.”
The Speaker was, however, dismissive of the provision calling it a “feel-good measure” that won’t do anything to get money out of politics. He pointed out that, if the measure became law, it would not prevent individual lawmakers from starting a PAC that’s not associated with the leadership of any party and fundraise through that during the biennium.
Komline said that after working with the attorney general and secretary of state, their amendment was written as broadly as possible without running afoul of the Constitution.
She rejected the idea that their efforts were to level the playing field with Democrats who raise more money through lobbyist-sponsored fundraisers in recent bienniums. A potential future Republican majority would be bound by the same rules, Komline said.
“That’s not what this is about,” she said. “It’s about what is appropriate behavior for leaders in this building. I don’t care if they’re Republicans, Democrats or Progressives.”
A top Statehouse lobbyist, who requested anonymity to protect his firm and clients, said he agreed with Smith that the bill won’t have any impact.
“It’s just not how the game works. Every lobbyist and every client is giving the max, because it’s so low,” undercutting any potential benefit from a timely donation, they said. The maximum donation for a campaign cycle is $2,000 in Vermont.
The other new disclosure requirements impel lobbyists to make monthly expenditure reports to the secretary of state while the Legislature is in session. Lobbyists would have to file reports with the secretary of state within 48 hours of running mass media campaigns of more than $1,000 and disclose themselves as funders in a conspicuous place within each advertisement.
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