Lobbyists often get a bad name for attempting to influence public policy, but the First Amendment guarantees the right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” In other words, citizens have a right to lobby.
In an effort to promote transparency and shine a light on back-room dealing, Clark County since 1994 has required paid lobbyists to register as such. Since 2002, they’ve also been required to fill out a disclosure form every time they meet with a commissioner in an attempt to sway a vote. In 2009, the county imposed penalties for those who fail to follow either of these directives.
Not surprisingly, however, the law is widely flouted without consequence.
The Review-Journal’s Michael Scott Davidson reported this week that “on hundreds of occasions” in 2018 lobbyists failed to file the mandated disclosure documents within five days of meeting with a commissioner, as the law requires. Several lobbying firms blamed improper training or clerical errors for the delinquency. Marilyn Kirkpatrick, who chairs the County Commission, vowed to more diligently monitor compliance.
“Going forward, these (lobbying laws) will be strictly enforced,” she told the Review-Journal. “No policy is very good unless someone can enforce it.”
Commissioner Larry Brown said the panel will discuss the issue in the near future. He noted, however, he is wary of creating a new bureaucracy charged with enforcing the lobbying policy. His concerns are warranted, but adding staff seems unnecessary. The county already employs internal auditors who could periodically monitor the situation.
County officials could also boost compliance by actually levying financial penalties on offenders. The law allows for a six-month suspension for those who fail to register and a two-month suspension for those who repeatedly ignore the disclosure demands. But the statute also provides for financial penalties of up to $1,000 for lawbreakers. You can bet that a fine or two or five will get the attention of lobbyists plying the halls of the Clark County Government Center.
“Given the extent of the problem,” county spokesman Erik Pappa said in an email, “we will be making a concerted effort to remind lobbyists of the requirements of our policy, how important it is that they comply and the ramifications of noncompliance.”
That’s great, but a policy that is never enforced is nothing more than a sham. If county officials want to do more than simply pay lip service to this issue, they’ll immediately begin imposing penalties for those who have ignored the law. Mr. Davidson has provided them with plenty of places to start.