The Maryland Senate, with little fanfare, overwhelmingly approved three bills today designed to broaden disclosure requirements imposed on lawmakers and lobbyists.
The measures are half the bills in a package designed to curb what some lawmakers said is the rising political influence of special interest lobbyists and a corresponding decline in public esteem for the legislature. The three other bills in the package, which was sponsored by Ethics Committee chairman Sen. Julian Lapides (D-Baltimore) and Senate President Melvin Steinberg (D-Baltimore County), are scheduled to be voted on Friday.
Approved today on a series of unanimous votes with no discussion were measures that would ban lobbyists from paying for meals when they are not present, require unincorporated lobbying groups to disclose their financial backers and require more detailed reporting of expenses that are picked up by lobbyists.
The first is designed to stop lawmakers from dining out and leaving bills for a lobbyist to pay. The second is aimed at lobbying efforts by what appear to be grass-roots groups "like Citizens for Motherhood, the Flag and Apple Pie, and . . . don't disclose who is paying the bills and sometimes are a front for other [special interest] organizations," Lapides said. As an example, Lapides mentioned a group called "Traffic Safety Now" that lobbied for the seat belt bill and was funded by the car manufacturers.
The third is aimed at out-of-town junkets and would require that lobbyists who spend more than $200 on a lawmaker, and the lawmakers themselves, give itemized reports on the expenses.
Two of the bills would broaden requirements for registering lobbyists to cover those who seek to influence executive regulations and those who lobby exclusively over the telephone.
A third bill would eliminate the policy of allowing lobbyists with multiple clients to divide the costs of expenses and gifts over the total number of clients. That practice reduces the likelihood the lobbyists will have to report each expense, because under current law expenses of less than $15 per lawmaker per day need not be reported.
Lapides expressed unhappiness with amendments added in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee that would raise from $15 to $25 the amount a lobbyist can spend on an individual lawmaker each day without having to disclose it. The amendments also would raise from $75 to $100 the amount a lobbyist can spend on each lawmaker each year without disclosure.
Although Lapides praised the committee's overall work on the package, he said he will press to have those limits restricted further when the bills go to the House.
Killed in committee were measures to tighten reporting requirements for the political contributions lobbyists make, which Lapides called "next year's fight."
The measures now go to the House of Delegates. Some House members have tried to limit the influence of so-called special interest groups in recent years mainly through curbs on campaign contributions, but the bills have been perceived as too complicated and killed on the House floor.
A Senate measure to limit contributions by political action committees also died in a Senate panel earlier this year.