Matt Tully's column in the Indy Star discussing lobbyist reform legislation Sen. Mike Delph is introducing in this legislative session is a refreshing change. Here's a look at Delph's proposals, which he shared with Tully recently over coffee:
- He showed me a bill (Senate Bill 17) to require the reporting of every gift of $25 or more, including meals, that a lobbyist gives to a lawmaker. The current limit is $100; a reduction in that amount would make it harder for lawmakers to keep quiet about which interest groups are funding their dinners.
- Then he showed me a bill (Senate Bill 73) to require state university lobbyists, including presidents and trustees, to actually register as lobbyists. While it is crucial that we support and fund Indiana's universities, those institutions should have to abide by the same rules as other lobbying groups. Few groups work harder than universities to tap into the state budget. Is it too much to ask that those efforts be disclosed?
- Two other bills that have not yet been filed would ban lawmakers from accepting gifts from lobbyists on out-of-state junkets and force the legislature to create a commission to fairly draw legislative districts.
All of Delph's ideas are worthy of becoming law. The lowering of the reporting limit for gifts is important. There are some legislators who are dined daily by some of the state's most powerful lobbyists at the city's most expensive restaurants while the legislature is in session. All of those expensive meals never seem to trigger the $100 reporting requirement and so a legislator's constituents have no idea just how much he or she is taking in freebies from lobbyists. Delph's targeting of state university lobbyists is also a good idea. All of those free tickets to IU and Purdue sporting events really soften up legislators. Similarly, banning out-of-state junkets paid by lobbyists is a great idea.
I recall hearing a story about a freshly-appointed lawmaker a few years ago who took the place of a legislator forced out of office under an ethics cloud. The freshman legislator took a free fishing trip to Florida with a group of lobbyists (unreported, of course). Not surprisingly, that legislator resigned a few years later from the legislature to become a lobbyist, just like the ethically-challenged legislator who preceded him in office. And that brings up Sen. Pat Miller's legislation. Yes, we need a law barring state lawmakers from resigning their legislative seats to become lobbyists. She proposes a one-year cooling off period. A two-year period would be preferable but anything is better than what we have.
I particularly like Delph's idea to create a bipartisan commission to fairly draw legislative boundaries. So many bad lawmakers remain in office for decades because the legislative boundaries are drawn to favor incumbent members of the party drawing the boundaries. Districts should be drawn compactly and without regard to their political make-up. States like Iowa which have adopted this approach have seen far more competitive races for the state legislature and Congress.
Chances are that neither Delph's or Miller's legislation will go anywhere if the past is prologue. Indiana lawmakers like their all-too cozy relationship with lobbyists too much to give up the perks that come along with those relationships. It is nice to see that some lawmakers understand the problem, even after participating in the process for many years. Mayor Greg Ballard could take some cues from Delph. Less than a year into office and he already seems to have an almost depraved indifference to the ethical clouds which have enveloped his entire administration. And this after he ran a campaign promising the exact opposite.
From Advance Indiana