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Lobbyists Make Their Mark Hired Guns For Idaho Business And Industry Exert Significant Influence On State Legislation

Mon., April 1, 1996

Idaho’s lawbooks are littered with laws designed for - and in many cases, written by - individual businesses and industries.

The success of business lobbyists can be measured in laws such as the one that forbids auto dealers from displaying their vehicles at car shows outside their own county or the one that requires citizens to post a huge bond if they want to challenge a state timber sale.

Lobbyists, who outnumber lawmakers in Idaho nearly 3-to-1, have a significant impact on legislation. But experts say that’s how the system is designed to work.

“It’s such an ingrained part of our process that none of this strikes me as particularly surprising,” said Jim Macdonald, a law professor at the University of Idaho.

“There’s so much legislation out there - you can’t expect it all to originate in the minds of the legislators.”

This year, 137 of the more than 700 bills introduced listed a lobbyist as initiating sponsor. That’s nearly 20 percent. And it doesn’t count bills lobbyists brought to lawmakers, who then listed themselves as sponsors.

Estimates vary on what portion of Idaho’s laws originate with lobbyists. Lobbyists estimate as many as half, but Mike Nugent, the Legislature’s chief bill drafter, guesses about one-third.

Nugent’s office won’t work with a lobbyist unless a lawmaker requests it. “Those people up there are elected to represent the public interest,” he said. “That’s the filter.”

Presenting their cause

Gov. Phil Batt expressed frustration many times this year over the role of lobbyists. He fumed over their influence when the gasoline tax bill nearly died in a dispute over an unrelated truck-weight bill, and he blamed them for killing a fee on restaurants to help pay for health inspections.

But Batt stops short of calling for lobbying reform. “Lobbyists are there to present their cause.”

That hired-gun role gives lobbyists something of a bad reputation.

“I think there is a view that lobbyists’ role in the legislative process is to hand out dollar bills. That’s an erroneous view,” said Chuck Lempesis, a longtime North Idaho political player who has been lobbying in recent years.

Last year, lobbyists reported spending $142,230 to wine and dine lawmakers. This year’s figures still are being tallied, but the trend has been downward since 1990.

Knowing how things work and whom to talk to may be a lobbyist’s most potent weapon.

Said Russell Westerberg, a former lawmaker from Soda Springs who has been lobbying for 20 years, “It’s an understanding of the process more than any special access that makes a professional lobbyist essential.”

Things have gotten bigger, more complex, more sophisticated in the last two decades, Westerberg said. “You’ve got to have somebody that understands the process.”

He sees Idaho’s system as better than the one in the U.S. Congress, where paid lobbyists represent foreign governments. With clients ranging from mining companies to The Hagadone Corp. to Silverwood Theme Park, “I represent Idaho interests,” Westerberg said.

Lawmakers lack staff

Timber industry lobbyist Joe Hinson came to Idaho 14 years ago from Washington, D.C., and “this is a lot better,” he said. “It’s a much more honest process. You get legitimate votes, legitimate debates on the issues. Things aren’t totally partisan.”

In Washington, Hinson said, he often got the impression lawmakers didn’t know much about the bills they were voting on because they left research to their staffs. But in Idaho, lawmakers don’t have staffs unless they’re in leadership; committee chairmen have a secretary.

“Coming here from Washington, I was surprised. When people got up on the floor to argue, they knew what they were talking about.”

There are exceptions to that, of course. When Rep. Chuck Cuddy, D-Orofino, argued on the House floor for Hinson’s bill to change a law that designates Idaho’s lakeshores for recreation, he said environmentalists had used the law to delay legitimate timber sales.

Actually, no sales ever were delayed because of the issue. Hinson said that was just “an honest mistake” on Cuddy’s part.

Hinson figures he has written or played a significant role in writing two dozen laws now on Idaho’s books. “I like to write things. A lot of lobbyists don’t,” he said. “So I volunteer a lot.”

Tim Brennan, who’s retiring after 37 years of lobbying, helped write hundreds of bills and has been involved in nearly every piece of sales tax legislation as representative of the Idaho Retailers Association.

“Most of us are association representatives who speak … for thousands of people,” he said. “If we were dishonest, somebody finds out.”

Legislators often turn to lobbyists for information on complex bills, Brennan said. “There’s no way they can understand all of them. So they’re dependent on the lobbyists they trust and the other legislators they trust.”

Westerberg says he sees lobbying as part of the democratic process: People elect officials; then they lobby them to pass laws they like.

Asked if that leaves out citizens who can’t afford lobbyists, he said hundreds of organizations and interests have lobbyists.

Citizen makes difference

Despite the army of lobbyists, individual citizens still can be heard in the Legislature. This year, a Meridian woman whose daughter had completed kindergarten in California but didn’t meet Idaho’s age requirement to start first grade challenged the requirement.

She went to the chairman of the House Education Committee, and when the first bill that included her requested change died, she went to the speaker of the House.

“She sat down and made her case,” said Speaker Mike Simpson, R-Blackfoot. “I said ‘OK,’ we ran it and got it through.”

Simpson chuckled that the Meridian woman’s bill was signed into law while a package of workers’ compensation reforms developed by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, stalled.

“Everyone thinks we just bow down to IACI,” he said.

A matter of philosophy

Macdonald, the UI professor, said the success of business lobbyists is related directly to Republican dominance of the Legislature.

“I think when you have an over-whelmingly Republican Legislature, that is going to coincide with successful business lobbying. In an overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature, you might see labor, the environment and so-called liberal interests being more successful.”

Simpson said, “We probably are more influenced by business-oriented lobbyists than others because I think that’s more the philosophy of the legislators.”

Courts have been favorable to the kind of legislation that’s produced by the lobbying process, “even if they are obviously special-interest laws,” Macdonald said. “The judicial branch defers to the legislative branch without asking too many questions about how it got enacted.”

So, laws such as the car dealers’ ban on exhibiting at auto shows in other counties stand. This winter, a Twin Falls auto dealer was kicked out of a sports and RV show at the Boise fairgrounds because of the law.

Brennan, who represents the Idaho Automobile Dealers Association, said the dealers wanted the law to protect their franchises.

The car dealers’ law has been on the books for years. But several special laws for individual businesses that were proposed this year didn’t make it. A couple of them fell to Batt’s veto when he said they didn’t appear to be in the best interest of the state.

But other business bills, dealing with issues from banking to timber to mining, were signed into law.

Batt, who vetoed laws requested by a Boise sign company and by Silverwood Theme Park, said the nearly one-party Legislature - it’s 80 percent Republican - creates “a real drive to get through the session, to not offend anybody’s pet bill, to pass it on through.

“It puts a very big backstop responsibility on the governor.”

, DataTimes MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story: BILLS TO HELP BUSINESSES Some of the bills introduced for Idaho businesses in this session: HB612 allows prepayment fees to be charged on second mortgages. Signed into law. Initiating sponsor/ lobbyist: Bill Roden, Idaho Financial Services Association. HB714 addressed liability for accidents at amusement parks. Vetoed. Sponsor: Rep. Hilde Kellogg, R-Post Falls. Lobbyist: Russell Westerberg, Silverwood Theme Park. HB786 changes the way mining taxes are calculated in certain cases. Signed into law. Initiating sponsor/ lobbyist: Jack Lyman, Idaho Mining Association. HB784 would have granted a tax break to Gallo Winery for a new hard-cider product. Passed the House, died in the Senate. Sponsor: Rep. Chuck Cuddy, D-Orofino. Lobbyist: Roger Seiber, E&J; Gallo Winery. SB1393 amends 1927 law that designated Idaho’s lake shores for recreation. Signed into law. Initiating sponsor/lobbyist: Joe Hinson, Intermountain Forest Industry Association. SB1409 revises law regarding bail bonds. Signed into law. Initiating sponsor/lobbyist: Dave Leroy, Professional Bail Agents of Idaho. HB674 requires wine and beer distributors to use an Idaho warehouse. Signed into law. Initiating sponsor/lobbyist: Bill Roden, Idaho Beer & Wine Distributors.

BUSINESS LOBBYISTS Here are some of the individual businesses that retained lobbyists for the 1996 Idaho legislative session: Abracadabra Bail Bonds, Boise; Albertson’s Inc., Boise; Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc., St. Louis.; Asarco Inc., Washington, D.C.; AT&T;, Denver; Basic American Foods, Blackfoot; Bio Clear Systems, Sandpoint; Blue Cross of Idaho, Boise; Blue Shield of Idaho, Lewiston; Boise Cascade Corp., Boise; Broadcast Music Inc., New York; Browning Ferris Inc., Boise; Burlington Northern Railroad, Helena.; Chevron USA, San Francisco; Clark House on Hayden Lake; Clear Lakes Trout Co., Boise; Clear Springs Foods, Buhl; Commnet Cellular Inc., Englewood, Colo.; Envirosafe Services, Grand View; E&J; Gallo Winery, Modesto, Calif.; Farmers Insurance, Pocatello; FMC Corp., Pocatello; Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Mich.; Glaxo Inc., Research Triangle Park, N.C.; GTE Northwest, Beaverton, Ore.; GTECH Corp., West Greenwich, R.I.; Hagadone Corp., Coeur d’Alene; Hecla Mining Co., Coeur d’Alene; Hewlett-Packard Co., Boise; Idaho Beverage, Lewiston; Idaho Power Co., Boise; Imsamet, Post Falls; Intermountain Gas Co., Boise; JR Simplot Co., Boise; Lockheed Martin Technologies, Boise; MCI Telecommunications, Denver; Micron Technology, Boise; Monsanto Co., St. Louis; Nagel Beverage Co., Boise; Norton Aero Ltd/Silverwood Inc., Athol; Potlatch Corp., San Francisco/Lewiston; Pyrodyne American, Tacoma; RJ Reynolds Tobacco USA, WinstonSalem, N.C.; Washington Water Power, Spokane.

Many other interests lobby through trade associations or other organizations.

These sidebars appeared with the story: BILLS TO HELP BUSINESSES Some of the bills introduced for Idaho businesses in this session: HB612 allows prepayment fees to be charged on second mortgages. Signed into law. Initiating sponsor/ lobbyist: Bill Roden, Idaho Financial Services Association. HB714 addressed liability for accidents at amusement parks. Vetoed. Sponsor: Rep. Hilde Kellogg, R-Post Falls. Lobbyist: Russell Westerberg, Silverwood Theme Park. HB786 changes the way mining taxes are calculated in certain cases. Signed into law. Initiating sponsor/ lobbyist: Jack Lyman, Idaho Mining Association. HB784 would have granted a tax break to Gallo Winery for a new hard-cider product. Passed the House, died in the Senate. Sponsor: Rep. Chuck Cuddy, D-Orofino. Lobbyist: Roger Seiber, E&J; Gallo Winery. SB1393 amends 1927 law that designated Idaho’s lake shores for recreation. Signed into law. Initiating sponsor/lobbyist: Joe Hinson, Intermountain Forest Industry Association. SB1409 revises law regarding bail bonds. Signed into law. Initiating sponsor/lobbyist: Dave Leroy, Professional Bail Agents of Idaho. HB674 requires wine and beer distributors to use an Idaho warehouse. Signed into law. Initiating sponsor/lobbyist: Bill Roden, Idaho Beer & Wine Distributors.

BUSINESS LOBBYISTS Here are some of the individual businesses that retained lobbyists for the 1996 Idaho legislative session: Abracadabra Bail Bonds, Boise; Albertson’s Inc., Boise; Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc., St. Louis.; Asarco Inc., Washington, D.C.; AT&T;, Denver; Basic American Foods, Blackfoot; Bio Clear Systems, Sandpoint; Blue Cross of Idaho, Boise; Blue Shield of Idaho, Lewiston; Boise Cascade Corp., Boise; Broadcast Music Inc., New York; Browning Ferris Inc., Boise; Burlington Northern Railroad, Helena.; Chevron USA, San Francisco; Clark House on Hayden Lake; Clear Lakes Trout Co., Boise; Clear Springs Foods, Buhl; Commnet Cellular Inc., Englewood, Colo.; Envirosafe Services, Grand View; E&J; Gallo Winery, Modesto, Calif.; Farmers Insurance, Pocatello; FMC Corp., Pocatello; Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Mich.; Glaxo Inc., Research Triangle Park, N.C.; GTE Northwest, Beaverton, Ore.; GTECH Corp., West Greenwich, R.I.; Hagadone Corp., Coeur d’Alene; Hecla Mining Co., Coeur d’Alene; Hewlett-Packard Co., Boise; Idaho Beverage, Lewiston; Idaho Power Co., Boise; Imsamet, Post Falls; Intermountain Gas Co., Boise; JR Simplot Co., Boise; Lockheed Martin Technologies, Boise; MCI Telecommunications, Denver; Micron Technology, Boise; Monsanto Co., St. Louis; Nagel Beverage Co., Boise; Norton Aero Ltd/Silverwood Inc., Athol; Potlatch Corp., San Francisco/Lewiston; Pyrodyne American, Tacoma; RJ Reynolds Tobacco USA, WinstonSalem, N.C.; Washington Water Power, Spokane.

Many other interests lobby through trade associations or other organizations.


 

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