Our Opinion: Disclose reimbursements for lobbyists’ gifts

Lawmakers wined and dined by lobbyists are easy targets for public vilification.

Compounding and confusing that criticism are two additional factors: reimbursements to lobbyists from legislators’ campaign funds and conflicting laws on the practice.

“Lobbyist” is not a pejorative noun, although some people attach that negative connotation.

Lobbyists represent businesses and groups that have an interest in the outcome — passage or defeat — of proposed legislation. Their task is to persuade based on facts.

When those meetings move from Capitol office to restaurant or ballgame, or when other gifts are included, public skepticism is aroused.

Although elected officials repeat the refrain — “my vote can’t be bought with a meal” — an appearance of impropriety lingers.

During election campaigns, challengers have attempted to, and succeeded in, capitalizing on the appearance of impropriety.

In an attempt to diminish that focus, some lawmakers have used campaign funds to reimburse lobbyists for meals and/or sports tickets. The reimbursements keep the lawmaker’s name off the lobbyist’s monthly expense reports.

Are the reimbursements legal?

State law and campaign finance law offer conflicting interpretations.

Campaign contributions “shall not be converted to any personal use,” according to a state law.

A campaign finance law, however, permits “expenses associated with the duties of candidacy or of elective office pertaining to the entertaining of or providing social courtesies to constituents, professional association ...”

Some lawmakers oppose using campaign funds to reimburse lobbyists, contending donations were not intended for that purpose.

Conversely, a justification is reimbursements remove an avenue opponents might exploit in a campaign.

We are proponents of full disclosure.

If lawmakers want to reimburse lobbyists, fine. Report the lobbyist’s gift as well as the legislator’s reimbursement.

Critics may remain skeptical and challengers may attempt to exploit the information, but that is nothing new in the realm of politics.

When it comes to lawmakers and lobbyists, full and honest disclosure is the best policy.

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