The influence of lobbyists on legislators is rightly reviled by voters both here in Indiana and throughout the country. The election of President Trump in 2016, with his rally-tested catch phrase “drain the swamp,” should be proof enough.
Ten states have enacted so-called “no-cup-ofcoffee” laws, which ban all gifts from lobbyists or their employers, including food and drink, to individual legislators and their families. During the last session of the Indiana General Assembly, Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, sought to make Indiana the 11th such state.
If only he had reintroduced the bill during this week’s opening of the 2018 session.
Instead he filed Senate Bill 95, which bans only the gifts of lobbyists for state educational institutions to lawmakers and their families. The legislation also requires lobbyists to log communications “with certain legislative persons” and submit the log each week to the Indiana Lobby Registration Commission.
Delph’s 2017 bill would have made it a Level 6 felony for a governmental entity to compensate a person to engage in lobbying using tax revenue, according to its digest.
As Delph pointed out to the Kokomo Tribune and Indiana’s other CNHI newspapers, lobbyists don’t butter up lawmakers out of the goodness of their hearts. They want something on the back end of the exchange. That’s how quid pro quo works, which is exactly why this type of prohibition is such a good idea.
The pushback to this change was predictable. Three years ago the Legislature passed a bevy of ethics reforms meant to curb the same sort of behavior through a much less effective method.
The rules don’t bar gifts of food, drink and entertainment from lobbyists, but legislators must disclose details of meals shared with, or gifts from, any of the 1,600 lobbyists registered to do business in Indiana. Any lobbyist gift over $50 in a single day must be reported, down to the dollar amount.
Drowning lawmakers in extra paperwork won’t make this problem go away. When the people send their fellow citizens to the Statehouse, they do so with the understanding they will be representing those who put them there and no one else. The current solution is a half-measure and nowhere near good enough. Delph’s instincts on this issue are correct.
Senate Bill 95 will strengthen Indiana’s legislative ethics rules, but Delph’s 2017 bill was better.