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A bill in the state House of Representatives would allow lobbyists to keep money the spend lobbying each other secret.

SALEM — Lobbyists in Salem say they want a permanent exemption from a requirement to report spending on lobbying other lobbyists, and a bill currently before the House Committee on Rules would accomplish that.

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission opposes House Bill 2058 and the commission’s executive director, Ron Bersin, said the bill would actually have a broader effect in permanently reducing the transparency of lobbying in Oregon.

In a recent hearing, lobbyist Marla Rae acknowledged the influence peddling scandal around former Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fiancee Cylvia Hayes has raised interest in ethics reforms, which could raise interest in the transparency of lobbying activities.

“With newly appointed and newly inaugurated Governor (Kate) Brown calling for a look at ethics, I presume everything’s going to be on the table, including the extent of lobbyist reporting,” Rae said during a Feb. 18 hearing on HB 2058 at the House Committee on Rules. Rae spoke on behalf of the Capitol Club of Oregon, a professional organizations for lobbyists, Brown took the oath of office on the morning of Feb. 18, after Kitzhaber resigned.

In 2013, Oregon lobbyists got a temporary reprieve from reporting their spending to lobby other lobbyists, for example to build a coalition of industries for or against an issue. Now, lobbyists want a permanent break from the reporting requirement.

Rae told lawmakers that until 2013, lobbyists believed they did not have to report spending to lobby people other than legislative and executive officials. Lobbyists asked the ethics commission for an advisory opinion on the question in 2013 and when the commission said they needed to report spending on lobbyists and the entities they represent, the lobbyists sought the exemption, Rae said.

Bersin asked lawmakers to vote ‘no’ on HB 2058 and instead extend the current lobbyist reporting exemption until after the roll-out of a new online lobbying reporting system in 2016. The current exemption expires June 30, 2015. Bersin believes the system will be easy to use and it will preempt complaints by lobbyists that reporting poses a burden.

Bersin said that in 2014, companies, interest groups and other entities reported spending $26 million on lobbyists but lobbyists only reported spending $92,000 on the people they lobbied. He said that’s because lobbyists currently only report spending on lawmakers and other people who fall under the category of legislative and executive officials, which doesn’t provide a full picture of lobbying efforts.

“I know this has been deemed as eliminating the lobby-to-lobby, but what it essentially does is it excludes it down to legislative and executive officials,” Bersin told lawmakers. “And as we all know being legislative and executive officials that we are all part of the gift limits that were brought in in 2007, and so we’re restricted to receive up to $50 in a calendar year.”

House Bill 2058 has yet to move out of committee.

This story first appeared in the Oregon Capital Insider. To subscribe, go to oregoncapitalinsider.com

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