NOTE: This post has been updated
A bill that transfers the Executive Ethics Board into the state’s campaign-finance regulatory agency and also charges lobbyists a registration fee survived last week’s committee deadlines. House Bill 1005 passed out of two committees on near-party-line votes and its ultimate fate is still in doubt. The measure remains in Rules Committee, the last step before getting a vote on the House floor.
Republicans largely ganged up against HB 1005 in committees, while Democrats were in favor. UPDATE: The committee vote record posted online shows two exceptions – Democratic Rep. Kathy Haigh of Shelton, who is listed as voting against it in the House Appropriations Committee, and Republican Rep. Paul Harris of Vancouver who is listed as voting for it. Haigh said this evening she would have voted for the bill and thinks her name and Harris’ were mixed up on the sign-in sheet for votes.
Sponsored by state Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, HB 1005 has evolved a bit since it was introduced before the start of session. Moeller has abandoned a provision to merge the Legislative Ethics Board into the Public Disclosure Commission, which regulates campaign-finance disclosure – in part a nod to the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government.
But Moeller is continuing to push for merging the EEB, which has ethics enforcement powers over state workers and state executive officials, into the PDC, despite opposition from the ethics enforcement agency that is now housed loosely under the arm of the Attorney General’s Office.
It is one of the few bills in play this year that would actually restructure agencies.
Lobbyists were split on the registration fee idea during testimony in the House Government Operations and Elections Committee. The fee would generate about $600,000 per biennium for a major upgrade in the PDC’s software systems for disclosing campaign and lobbying finances.
Steve Gano, a contract lobbyist with many clients, said the site today “is best described as clunky …. It locks you out. It freezes you out.’’ Others called it a tax on the right of to petition one’s government.
Moeller has pushed for the lobbyist fee idea in past sessions only to see it die in the House after moving out of committee. This time around, he proposes to hit more people working for pay in the political system, while exempting low-budget operators.
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 does have exemptions for those who are not highly paid for the work.
PDC director Andrea McNamara Doyle expressed appreciation during a hearing for the proposed additional funding for upgrading her agency’s e-filing system. She said the money would go strictly to designing, improving or developing IT systems at the agency and would not cover new costs for absorbing the duties of ethics enforcement and investigation, which her agency needs more funding to accommodate.
Melanie deLeon, executive director of the Executive Ethics Board, testified against the bill, saying that what the PDC does is different than what her agency does. She said the merger won’t save money but will cost $240,000 more than her agency now spends.
After last week’s fiscal committee cutoffs, lawmakers are moving dozens of bills off the House and Senate floors this week. They face a Wednesday, March 13, deadline for passing policy bills off the floor of their chamber of origin. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on April 28.