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February 08, 2011

Hello My Name Is... Bill Would Require Statehouse Lobbyists to Wear ID Badges

Jason_Lorber State Rep. Jason Lorber (D-Burlington) wants to know the name of that lobbyist chatting up the governor — and who he works for.

Under a bill introduced by Lorber (pictured doing his Moo-Jew stand-up comedy shtick) and two colleagues today, statehouse lobbyists would be required to wear name-tags identifying who they are and who they represent.

H-186, co-sponsored by state Reps. Lynn Dickinson (R-St. Albans) and Sarah Edwards (P-Brattleboro) wouldn't impose penalties on  nameless lobbyists but it would require them to list every firm they work for on a clearly visible badge. The one-sentence bill will go to the Rules Committee for consideration.

Lorber tells Seven Days the bill is aimed at improving transparency generally, and isn't in response to any particular problem with lobbyists.

"Having name-tags gives us more information: what's going on, who's talking to who," Lorber says. "The more transparency we have, the greater ability we have to scrutinize what's happening, which means the more likely it will be that government will operate the way that it should."

Lorber says that in Vermont, lobbyists probably have more access to legislators than in any other state — and that the same is true for average citizens."We like it that way," he says, "and part of good government is having transparency. And with more transparency, you get more accountability."

Plus, he adds, "When other lawmakers are talking to lobbyists, it's good information to know who's talking to whom."

Vermont has around 400 registered lobbyists, a number that fluctuates by a dozen or so from year to year, according to David Crossman of the Secretary of State's Elections Division. Some of those represent a single client, while others work for so many special interests, it takes a full page in the state lobbyist facebook to list them all. Some are regular fixtures at the capitol, while others might show up once or twice a year, or never.

The total compensation paid to registered lobbyists has stayed pretty steady, too — at least since 2007 — at between $650,000 and $700,000 a year, according to disclosure reports on file with the state.

Fourteen states require lobbyists to wear ID badges,including every other New England state, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. Other states suggest lobbyists wear them, but don't mandate it. (An aside: In Connecticut — aka Corrupt-i-cut — where I covered politics prior to coming here, lobbyists couldn't even enter the House or Senate chambers; they had to stand outside, in a little roped off square, and shout at legislators as they entered and exited the chambers to get their attention.)

Lorber says that lobbyists function differently in Vermont than in other states — more like staff. Vermont lawmakers don't have individual staffs to research bills and issues for them and often it's lobbyists who fill that void, he says. A handful of attorneys in the Office of Legislative Council drafts bills and provides assistance to all 180 state lawmakers. Legislators often rely on lobbyists for basic information and research, Lorber says. That can lead to some cozy relationships between lawmakers and lobbyists.

Lorber says his own experiences with lobbyists have been "generally good" but adds "there's always one or two that haven't been as truthful as they should be." Lorber can't point to any big problems or scandals stemming from Vermont lobbyists, but says, "Let's not wait until we have a problem."

"I want to be clear: lobbyists play an important role," Lorber says. "All this bill focuses on is, let's make it transparent."

Not a bad idea for everyone to wear a name tag from Dale the taxpayer to Lazario the lobbyist. Lets look into the feasible cost of registering when entering and getting a daily sticky on your chest, so everyone knows everyone.

Let me be clearer. Feasible cost for implementing the program, not a feasible cost for entering the statehouse, as that is always free, except of course for taxes we pay.

Andy: Would this bill just be for paid lobbyists or would it also include citizens, including ones serving in an unpaid capacity in an activist or advocate role, however doing so independently and without any direct association to and not on behalf of any organization, group or entity? (i.e., citizens who are not professional, paid lobbyists and who are not representing anyone as such) Am asking because requiring such of those who are doing so as citizens would not be a good thing, even if in some cases there are those who do so on a regular, yet volunteer basis in order to help keep an eye on the goings on at the state house, including some who share information with other citizens who do not have the time or energy to do so on their own and whom also cannot afford to have someone do it for them either.

In addition, if under this bill paid lobbyists would have to have the names of those they represent listed on a clearly visible badge, then for the sake of transparency state legislators should also have to do the same on their end and list whomever has donated campaign contributions -- whether it be money or other via means -- to them. Instead of doing so on badges however, maybe in their case they should wear jackets with campaign donor patches of different sizes depending on the size of the donation.

The reps should also have to wear badges, indicating what college they graduated from (if any), whether they actually obtained a degree, and what their grade point average was.

Rep Lorber has zero credibility in the statehouse and gets even less laughs at stand up shows. This bill is such BS. How about some jobs in this state Jason?

It's a good idea for the people's house. The badges should be large and legible, maybe color coded to differentiate between visitors, family, corporations, small businesses, professional organizations, non profits.
Of course it may have the unintended effect of moving the real dirty business across the street, away from prying eyes.
As PJ O'Rourke said: " The law of unintended consequences gets passed by every legislature."

How come Rep Lorber has zero credibility? Enlighten me please.

Listen: Requiring lobbyists to wear ID badges in the State House is no big deal. I once ran the North Dakota Education Association, and the ND Legislature required us to wear badges. We were even issued "official name tags" but most of us preferred to wear ID badges prepared by our organizations. At one point, a State Senator introduced a bill to change the name North Dakota to simply "Dakota". During the debate over that legislation, I went around putting a yellow sticky over the "North" on the badges of my lobbying cohorts. So, the North Dakota Education Association became the Dakota Education Association, the North Dakota Rural Electric Association became the Dakota Rural Electric Association, etc. When the bill failed, the yellow stickies came off.

The larger question may be the inordinate influence of lobbyists in the Vermont State House. While I think the Leg Council staff and the Joint Fiscal staff are top-notch, I also believe that it is easy for them to be overwhelmed by the flood of info lobbyists hand out. It may never happen here, but I think Vermont would be better off if we also had a Legislative Research Service to answer to the legislators.

I once sat in the Senate Appropriations Committee and the then Chair, Tom Macaulay of Rutland, handled out "a letter we just got from Kimbell and Sherman", two of the most active lobbying types in Montpelier at the time. It just struck me as a symbol of how some lobbyists, well-funded by their clients and many out-of-state firms, have greater research capacity available to them then our Legislature has.

Yeah, jsanchez. What's your beef with Rep. Lorber? If you're going to make a sweeping accusation like that, back it up with some facts.

I totally agree with the post that says if lobbyists are required to wear badges, the legislators should be required to wear badges identifying who paid for them. For example, a legislator's badge might say, "Rep. ____, paid for by VPIRG, CLF, the State Employees Union, and the Teacher's Union."

If I'm a public visitor to the statehouse, why shouldn't I be able to immediately see who paid for my legislator's votes?

I think all or nothing. If you are going to have name tags for lobbyists I agree that everyone entering the statehouse should have a name tag. Even the general public. If I want to go sit in on a debate why not wear a name tag....

I see no issue making it clear who is at the statehouse, why, and whom they are speaking to.

Legislators should be required to wear racing car jump suits with patches from corporations, non-profits, unions and others that sponsor their campaigns. Geo Group, CCA, Pfizer, Pike Industries, HP, VPIRG, AFLCIO, whatever. I will admit that the thought of some of our vermont legislators in tight fitting jump suits is a little repulsive.

Looks like Lorber gets most of his campaign money from two out of state corporations, in Mass. and Illinois.

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