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Thursday, March 16, 2006
Posted 6:31 PM by

Pa. takes a baby step on lobbyist reform

Gov. Ed Rendell took a baby step toward reform this week when he ordered most lobbyists seeking to influence the executive branch. His order, however, carries little weight and no penalties.Despite some movement in the Legislature, Pennsylvania is still the only state in the nation without a lobbyist disclosure law, let alone limits on what they can spend.

But Gov. Ed Rendell took a baby step toward one this week when he signed an executive order requiring most lobbyists who seek to influence the executive branch of state government - which includes all departments and agencies - to register and report their spending.

"It is important for the public to know and understand who is working to influence decisions. This change in the Governor's Code of Conduct will shed new light on forces that work to influence actions in state government," Rendell said. "This information and a complete database eventually will be available and accessible to the public."

This being Pennsylvania, though, there are of course a few catches:

  • Lobbyist information does not have to be made public for up to six months.

  • There's no penalties for violations.

  • Lobbyists who earned or spent less than $2,500 per quarter in the previous two years are exempt. So they can spend heavy when their bill or regulatory rule comes up for a vote and still get away with it.

  • Finally, Rendell's order does not require state employees to provide their statement of financial conflicts of interests to the state Ethics Commission for posting on its web site. That means the public still can't see them.
The question that should be asked is where has Rendell been the past four years on this issue?

The incumbent Democrat, who will likely face Republic challenger Lynn Swann in the fall, said he waited to act because he had hoped the Legislature would restore a law that applies to the legislative and executive branches.

"We've waited so long and nothing happened," Rendell said.

That's because state House Speaker John Perzel was blocking any measures from coming to a vote on the floor even though fellow legislative juggernaut, state Sen. Vincent Fumo, favors reform.

Perzel has since relented.


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