A while ago I wrote about the unexpected fresh breeze of transparency that has blown into NC’s General Assembly as a result of a section of the new lobbying law requiring lobbyists to identify themselves and their clients. This particular section requires that:
Each lobbyist shall identify himself or herself as a lobbyist prior to engaging in lobbying communications or activities with a designated individual. The lobbyist shall also disclose the identity of the lobbyist's principal connected to that lobbying communication or activity.
Most lobbyists have responded to this requirement by wearing a nametag listing their name and who they work for. For lobbyists with multiple clients, the lobbyist’s name is listed along with the firm (or their own company) who they work for. The lobbyist then has to orally specify which client he or she is speaking on behalf of when they communicate to legislators and other staff covered by the lobbying law.
As I said before, the appearance of nametags has had a great effect on the atmosphere at the General Assembly. Suddenly, people who aren’t longtime or daily visitors to the legislative building could quickly identify who was working for which company or interest. Even people who have worked in the legislature a long time would sometimes be surprised at the new organization represented by an acquaintance or finally identify that person who you were never really sure was truly interested in your issues.
Unfortunately, an increasing number of who I call the “moneyed lobbyists” – those people who represent well-heeled clients who give large campaign contributions – have taken to ignoring this new transparency. Sure, the law doesn’t specifically require nametags. Simply identifying yourself and who you work for each an every time you talked to a legislator, staff member, or other “covered person” under the law – and there are hundreds and hundreds – would suffice. In reality however, how can anyone talk to a group and meet this requirement? No one can know every single person covered by the law.
I think the resistance to this requirement by the moneyed lobbyists is the realization that in clearly identifying who they are and who they represent to members of the general public they lose the anonymity they prize as one of their greatest assets. For these lobbyists, the personal relationship and quiet backroom deal is all. Identifying you represent an industry to everyone means that your actions and words are judged just as much in light of the company you represent – and can be judged by everyone – as they are judged by the long-term personal relationships you have fostered and your clients have greased by heavy campaign donations.
The next version of the lobbying law should clearly require nametags for lobbyists – their surprising role in improving the legislative climate is too central to allow exceptions for the titans of special interests.