"What's black and white and read all over?"

Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Posted 9:14 PM by

Congressional, Pa. legislative Web sites play hide-and-seek

Pennsylvania House Seaker John Perzel's lobbying reform bill was finally posted online Wednesday, a week after it was unveiled at a press conference, even though he plans to have it on Gov. Ed Rendell's desk by the end of the month.One week after Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel announced his lobbyist disclosure bill, the measure is finally online for voters to read - if they can find it - on the Legislature's Web site.

Perzel's proposal still isn't among the five categories of lobbyist bills listed on the Web site's topic index of pending legislation.

However, House Bill 2753, can be found by its number on a numerical index, and by searching the site for the keyword "lobby."

Although Perzel held a press conference last Wednesday to tout the virtues of his bill, "Bills are not given a number until they were introduced. It didn't get introduced until Monday evening," an aide to the lawmaker, who requested anonymity, told me today. "We were holding it for the people who wanted to co-sponsor it."

In the end, 94 of the 203 other state representatives asked to have their names appear atop Perzel's bill - including House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese.

One name conspicuously absent was that of state Rep. Gregory's Vitali. The Delaware County Democrat, long a proponent of lobbyist disclosure and other reform measures, called Perzel's bill "a major disappointment.

"Under this bill, the public still has no way to gauge the influence of lobbyists on individual legislators and the important issues they decide; there is no way for people to connect lobbyist spending with legislators or their votes; and no way to determine how the millions of dollars in special interest money being spent in Harrisburg is impacting policies on important issues such as education, gambling and tax reform," Vitali said in a press release.

"This legislation will not change the current culture in Harrisburg; it offers the illusion of reform, not real reform. It is much less substantive and effective than other lobbying reform bills that have already been passed by the General Assembly in previous years."

In Pennsylvania, that means it probably will become law.

Although Perzel has said he's open to suggestions for improving the legislation, he wants to have a lobbyist disclosure bill on Gov. Ed Rendell's desk by the end of the month. To track his bill's progress, click here.

Pennsylvania has been the only state in the nation without a lobbyist disclosure law since 2002, when the state Supreme Court struck down a 1998 law as unconstitional.

A state Senate rule has provided somewhat of a glimpse at what lobbyists are doing since 2003. Last year, 800 registered lobbyists spent $125 million to sway the state's 253 lawmakers.

And come July 1, under an order from Rendell any lobbyist who spends more than $2,500 to lobby the state's executive branch officers will have to disclose who they work for and how much they spent, not where the money went or why.

Still, that's more than what we know now about the hordes of lobbyists in Washington, D.C., hoping to sway Congress.

Although congressional lobbyists are required to electronically file their spending with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives, the public can only request to see those filings in person or with a Freedom of Information request by mail.

Lobbyists' expense reports are not available online. Neither are the financial disclosure forms members of Congress file annually. This year's forms were publically available for the first time Wednesday, but only to reporters and anyone willing to drive to the Capital.

Asked why they're not online like the forms Pennsylvania lawmakers and officials have to file, Jon Brandt, a spokesman for the U.S. House Administration Committee, said, "That's because Congress has not mandated they do that. That might be dealt with in some of the reform packages currently pending."

For an Associated Press synopsis of the financial disclosures of U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum and Senate hopeful Bob Casey Jr., click here.

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