State Rep. Jason Lorber (D-Burlington) wants to know the name of that lobbyist chatting up the governor — and who he works for.
Under a bill introduced by Lorber (pictured doing his Moo-Jew stand-up comedy shtick) and two colleagues today, statehouse lobbyists would be required to wear name-tags identifying who they are and who they represent.
H-186, co-sponsored by state Reps. Lynn Dickinson (R-St. Albans) and Sarah Edwards (P-Brattleboro) wouldn't impose penalties on nameless lobbyists but it would require them to list every firm they work for on a clearly visible badge. The one-sentence bill will go to the Rules Committee for consideration.
Lorber tells Seven Days the bill is aimed at improving transparency generally, and isn't in response to any particular problem with lobbyists.
"Having name-tags gives us more information: what's going on, who's talking to who," Lorber says. "The more transparency we have, the greater ability we have to scrutinize what's happening, which means the more likely it will be that government will operate the way that it should."
Lorber says that in Vermont, lobbyists probably have more access to legislators than in any other state — and that the same is true for average citizens."We like it that way," he says, "and part of good government is having transparency. And with more transparency, you get more accountability."
Plus, he adds, "When other lawmakers are talking to lobbyists, it's good information to know who's talking to whom."
Vermont has around 400 registered lobbyists, a number that fluctuates by a dozen or so from year to year, according to David Crossman of the Secretary of State's Elections Division. Some of those represent a single client, while others work for so many special interests, it takes a full page in the state lobbyist facebook to list them all. Some are regular fixtures at the capitol, while others might show up once or twice a year, or never.
The total compensation paid to registered lobbyists has stayed pretty steady, too — at least since 2007 — at between $650,000 and $700,000 a year, according to disclosure reports on file with the state.
Fourteen states require lobbyists to wear ID badges,including every other New England state, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. Other states suggest lobbyists wear them, but don't mandate it. (An aside: In Connecticut — aka Corrupt-i-cut — where I covered politics prior to coming here, lobbyists couldn't even enter the House or Senate chambers; they had to stand outside, in a little roped off square, and shout at legislators as they entered and exited the chambers to get their attention.)
Lorber says that lobbyists function differently in Vermont than in other states — more like staff. Vermont lawmakers don't have individual staffs to research bills and issues for them and often it's lobbyists who fill that void, he says. A handful of attorneys in the Office of Legislative Council drafts bills and provides assistance to all 180 state lawmakers. Legislators often rely on lobbyists for basic information and research, Lorber says. That can lead to some cozy relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists.
Lorber says his own experiences with lobbyists have been "generally good" but adds "there's always one or two that haven't been as truthful as they should be." Lorber can't point to any big problems or scandals stemming from Vermont lobbyists, but says, "Let's not wait until we have a problem."
"I want to be clear: lobbyists play an important role," Lorber says. "All this bill focuses on is, let's make it transparent."
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