5 groups press Markell for lobbying reform commission
June 5, 2012
Written by CRIS BARRISH
The News Journal
Five groups led by Common Cause called on Gov. Jack Markell today to support a bill that would create a commission to suggest reforms to Delaware's lobbying laws, which national authorities consider among the country's weakest.
"The Legislature has been debating the issue of lobbying reform for a long time with little to show for it,'' said the letter, which cited a News Journal article last week that detailed several years of reform proposals that died in the General Assembly without votes by both the House and Senate.
"And one of the most important things missing from the debate has been a vehicle for considering all of the possible reforms in a comprehensive way.''
Joining Common Cause are Progressive Democrats of Delaware, Delaware Coalition for Open Government, League of Women Voters of Delaware and the Delaware chapter of the Sierra Club.
A bill to create such a commission unanimously passed the House last June, but nearly a year later -- with less than four weeks in the current legislative session -- has not even been introduced in the Senate. Senate President Pro Tem Anthony DeLuca, who controls when legislation is introduced, has refused comment on his inaction.
Markell's office did not immediately respond to the coalition's letter this morning, but the governor said last month he doesn't support the study commission bill because the panel would include at least three lobbyists.
The coalition differs.
"We disagree that having a number of lobbyists on such a commission would be an impediment to a full and open review of Delaware's law, or give the public reason to doubt such a commission's findings,'' the letter said. "If anything, the presence of a diverse group of lobbyists will guarantee that the concerns of the lobbying community are given full weight, and that any final recommendations bear their concerns in mind.''
The letter did applaud Markell for spearheading a bill, which passed last month, that requires lobbyists to disclose contacts with lawmakers or other state officials about pending legislation, and to create a database of such contacts that the public could access.
The coalition urged the governor not to be content, however.
"An increased understanding of the role of lobbyists will inspire the public to want further reforms and more transparency,'' the letter said.
A recent state-by-state study by the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity in Washington gave Delaware an F for its lobbying laws and how they are enforced, ranking the state 47th .
Among the shortcomings cited by the center and other critics:� Loopholes can avoid identifying the lawmakers and bureaucrats on whom they are spending money.
� Lawmakers can leave office and take a lobbying job immediately.
� Lobbyists' financial reports are not audited.
� Lobbyists employers do not have to report their salaries.