Indiana House panel approves ethics, lobbying bill

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2009 5:56 PM

An Indiana House committee endorsed a bill Wednesday to tighten lobbying and ethics rules and sent the legislation to the full, Democrat-controlled House.

The bill would prohibit lawmakers from becoming lobbyists for one year after their terms expire, regardless of whether they complete their terms. It also would require lobbyists to report gifts worth $50 or more, including meals, drinks and tickets to events. The current threshold is $100.

The bill also would bar the governor from raising campaign contributions during the long, budget-writing sessions of the General Assembly held in odd-numbered years. Lawmakers are already prohibited from fundraising during that time.

Also, anyone with a state contract or bidding on one worth $100,000 or more per year would not be able to donate to the campaigns of people running for state office.

House Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, who introduced the bill, said it was intended to give voters more confidence in the political process.

Julia Vaughn, policy director for the consumer watchdog group Common Cause of Indiana, told the House Ways and Means Committee the bill was a great step forward but did not go far enough. Former lawmakers should have to wait two years to become lobbyists, and no gifts should be allowed, she said.

Brianna Dines, a 20-year-old junior at Indiana University and a member of Democracy Matters _ a grassroots student organization that advocates cleaner elections and campaign finance laws _ told lawmakers many students are apathetic because they believe only money matters in politics. Like Vaughn, she advocated a complete ban on gifts.

Rep. Ralph Foley, R-Martinsville, took umbrage with some of her comments.

"I want you to understand there are many roles in the legislative process," he said. "It is all together fitting and proper to have citizens represented by organizations and that those organizations can have a representative here."

Dines agreed lobbying organizations were important.

But, she said, "We think that information should be the persuading factor in your decisions, not dinners and drinks."

Some Republicans questioned the ban on donations from state contractors and other provisions but voted for the bill to keep it moving.

The committee approved the bill 10-0. It will be eligible for floor action when the full Legislature convenes on Jan. 5.

Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, has filed an alternative ethics and lobbying bill that is supported by Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.

Miller's bill also would require lawmakers to report gifts worth $50 or more and wait a year before becoming a lobbyist.

It also would:

_ Expand state registration and reporting requirements to include university officials who lobby the Legislature.

_ Increase penalties from $10 per day to $100 for failure to file lobbyist registrations and reports in a timely manner and increase the maximum penalty from $100 to $18,000.

_ Prohibit state officials from using state money for radio and television advertisements, with the exception of the governor's public service announcements related to public health or safety.

"I think it's important that we give the public every confidence that everything we do is transparent," Miller said.