State Senate President Steny H. Hoyer today urged passage of a watered-down version of a lobbyists' disclosure bill that failed to pass the Maryland General Assembly last year, saying the new bill is a step in the right direction.
"We ought not to fool the public and say it's a full disclosure bill. It is not," Hoyer said. But he said despite its "significant loopholes," the bill would provide information "the public ought to know so they can have confidence in us and in the system."
A key provision of the proposal would require lobbyist to identify each mmber of the legislature or official of the executive branch and their families to whom they give $75 or more in gifts, meals, beverages and other benefits in a six-month period.
Major loopholes, as noted by Hoyer and other supporters of the legislatin, include exemptions for money paid as honorariums and expenses paid legislators for trips to meetings at which they spoke.
On the other side, Edward Riley of Common Cause said the amended version includes state employees at grade 18 or above (about $18,000 salary level and up).
"This is a better bill than last year." Riley told the Senate Committee on Constitutional and Public Law. Dale Balfour of the League of Women Voters said, "It's a weaker bill but the stronger bill didn't pass."
The exciting law, last amended in 1970, requires lobbyists to register and file an annual financial statement, but does not require them to identify the beneficiaries. The new proposal also would broaden the definition of a lobbyist.
Hoyer said the lobbying proposal and an expanded open meetings measure are "two of the most important bills" before the legislature this year.
The Senate president said that when there is little accounting of up to $1 million spent annually by lobbyists in Annapolis "the citizen has got to think, from time to time, that Steny Hoyer (and others he named . . . are getting some of that money in their pockets." The General Assembly should act so that residents would have "the fullest possible confidence" such is not the case, Hoyer said.
Joseph H. Curtice, a lobbyist for the Washington Building and Construction Trades Council and the Washington Central Labor Council, opposed the bill, saying it was "confusing."
William f. Holin of the state Chamber of Commerce said he was neither for nor against the bill. But he suggested that it should be amended so legislators who accept gifts not be identified. Naming legislators would "stigmatize legitimate lobbying efforts," Holin said, while illegal lobbying would go unreported anyway.