Idaho’s $10 fee to register as a lobbyist came in for scrutiny by lawmakers today, after Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, asked how long it had been since the fee had been raised.
“It hasn’t changed since 1974 when it became law,” responded Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst. “Although we’ve had lobbyists from outside of Idaho come in, they’re amazed at the $10 registration fee. Others are between $25 and $300 to register as lobbyists. So there’s a lot of leeway if you want to increase it – we won’t oppose that.”
Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, noted that it’s $10 per client each year; not $10 per lobbyist, so lobbyists with multiple clients pay more.
Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, said, “The last time I looked there were 425 registered lobbyists.” She suggested the lobbyists in the room go back to their group, “if you guys would like to discuss that, come up with a reasonable fee to help us implement this.”
Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said the state should look at what the Secretary of State’s office costs are to register a lobbyist. “If it’s $10, then that’s probably what we should charge,” he said. If it’s more, it should be raised, he said, but he urged caution. “We’ve got a lot of folks that like to come to the Capitol and lobby that aren’t registered that probably should be. If we raise this too high, are we just incentivizing even more of those folks to not register as a lobbyist, and cutting some people out of the process? I would be careful of looking at this as a way to fund all the software updates, the $1.2 million or whatever it’s going to be. I think we should cover the costs of an actual registration and probably go no farther than that."
Lodge responded, “I think those are good points, senator. We don’t want to cut out those people that come just once in a while and lobby on issues. This is a citizen legislature.”
Secretary of State Lawerence Denney told the Legislature’s working group on campaign finance reform, “As far as the cost for each registration, we don’t know. We are a general fund agency, so it’s part of our general fund budget.” And all fees the office takes in, he said, go back to the state general fund. “So this is a political decision whether you want to raise the fee. I don’t think $10 is probably high enough, but at the same time, it really doesn’t impact how we do business.”
Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, suggested delaying consideration of lobbying and lobbying fees to next year, rather than including it with the campaign finance disclosure changes the committee is now working on; the draft the committee has been reviewing includes extending lobbyist laws to the local government level.
After Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, said he thought lobbying was “less pervasive” or perhaps “not as much a part of the process” at the local level compared to the Legislature, House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said lobbying has been a big issue in Boise, and that he believes citizens need to know if a developer, for example, takes a city councilor or county commissioner to lunch. “I believe it is more pervasive, because there is less of a need to fully disclose at the local level,” Erpelding said. "I guarantee there's lobbying there, and they should be disclosing it."
Lakey noted that the draft bill the panel is reviewing wouldn't take effect until 2019 anyway, and the lobbying issue still could be addressed next year and take effect at the same time.
“I think what we're focusing on here … (is to) close the gaps ... transparency," Wood said. "If we wander off into the world of lobbying ... we’re going to get off into issues like this, and we’re going to put the simple things we want to do here at risk.” Wood said issues like lobbying at the local level and fees for lobbyist registration “are legitimate issues, they all need to be dealt with, but they ought to be left for another year. … We’re going to get bogged down here, and this is one of the things that will trip us up, in my opinion, if we try to go down this road.”
Lodge said, “We are asking for that extra year, and the involvement with the lobbying corps would be great to make sure we do come out with the correct answers.”
But when Wood asked for unanimous consent to remove from the draft the sections about applying lobbying laws to the local government level, Erpelding said, “I object to that.” He requested a roll-call vote. “Let me just point out why,” he said. "I object because we are simply a working group; this is not a finished piece of legislation. Removing it now ends the conversation for this year on this. Keeping it in allows the conversation to continue to percolate. And ultimately, even if we pass a different patch of legislation in 2018 to be effective in 2019 … we don’t 100 percent know that this committee will be renamed in an election cycle. I believe this is important enough to have a conversation on, so I object to the unanimous consent.”
Wood then moved to remove those sections for the purposes of the next draft; Lakey seconded the motion. It passed on a 6-4 vote, with Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, and Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, joining Erpelding and Stennett in voting “no.”