State Rep. Jim Moeller is reviving his yearly quest to raise money so that the state Public Disclosure Commission can retool its online finance disclosure system. The Vancouver Democrat says his House Bill 1005 would raise up to $1.2 million per biennium by levying a registration fee on lobbyists and politicians that file reports at the campaign-finance agency.
“Hope springs eternal,” Moeller said Tuesday after a hearing on the measure in the House Government Operations and Elections Committee, where it drew a mixture of support and criticism from lawmakers and lobbyists. “I think there is more emphasis on more efficient government. I think there is more emphasis on transparency in government.”
To get to his goal, Moeller has broadened his approach in two ways from past failed attempts:
- One, his proposed fee hits more people working for pay in the political system. Moeller estimates he could raise $600,000 a year by enacting a $200 fee for all elected officials and lobbyists who earn at least $10,000 and smaller fees for government lobbyists and others who are required to file reports at the PDC. His past efforts focused on a smaller group, but this effort still includes exemptions for those who are not highly paid for the work.
- Two, Moeller wants to merge the state’s Legislative Ethics Board and Executive Ethics Board into the PDC, which he’d expand from five to seven citizen members.
Video from the hearing is here:
Contract lobbyist Steve Gano, who runs a lobbying firm with his wife Kathleen, spoke as strongly as anyone in favor of the bill. The Ganos represent oil, financial and aerospace interests, and Steve Gano said the public’s trust is important to what he does, which means disclosure needs to be good.
Echoing complaints of others, Gano said the PDC’s site today “is best described as clunky …. It locks you out. It freezes you out.’’ He said the result is that the average citizen would have a hard time “to try figure out exactly what we are doing” with campaign and lobbying spending – even though he and others are not trying to hide anything.
Gano also said the $200 annual fee he and his wife would have to pay is “basically two tanks of gas’’ and would not be a hardship.
But Jerry Vanderwood, spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of Washington, testified that fees could pile up – hitting $800 a year for his association, which registers several of its employees. And contract lobbyist Bob Cooper questioned why a fee would be charged for those who want to exercise a basic constitutional right.
“You don’t put a tax on religion. You studiously avoid a specific tax on the press. Why would you put a tax on the right to petition government?” Cooper asked. That said, Cooper said the PDC system needs a “vast improvement’’ and he thinks a general revenue source should be used.
Republican lawmakers on the committee had questions too – including freshman Rep. Matt Manweller of Ellensburg. Manweller said he doesn’t mind having lobbyists pay or even having to pay himself, but he has heard complaints from city council members that don’t draw salaries but receive a $200 monthly stipend and would find the fee a stretch. Manweller said he has a hard enough time getting good people to run for local office.
Under the bill, an official would have to earn a salary over $10,000, not a stipend, to be affected. And school board members would be exempted, according to Moeller. But he said he is open to clarifying the bill language.
Republican Rep. Vincent Buys of Lynden saw a problem with the ethics-board merger, noting there could be conflicts if ethics issues arose at the PDC.
But several lobbyists testified that they thought the merger would be a good idea, and Michael Temple, lobbyist for trial lawyers, said an outside prosecutor could be brought in if a situation required it.
No one testified from the PDC or the ethics boards. But Melanie deLeon, executive director for the Executive Ethics Board, said later in an interview that the citizen board opposes the merger, believing their work differs from what the PDC does in most areas. The one area of overlap is that the PDC deals with the misuse of public resources by local-government employees, she said.
Rep. Sam Hunt, the Olympia Democrat who chairs the committee, said he has heard qualms about putting legislative ethics questions under the executive branch.
But Hunt said the measure has a chance of moving forward this year.