Transparency in executive-branch lobbying long overdue

Published 8:50 pm Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Among the numerous laws passed this year that go into effect next Thursday is one that should have been in place a long time ago.

Senate Bill 6 — like this year’s Senate Bill 67, which outlaws sex with animals — is one that makes you stop and ask, “Wait, why wasn’t that already the law?”

The bill requires lobbyists who attempt to influence members of Kentucky’s executive branch of government to disclose how much they are paid.

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It also prohibits compensation for lobbyists that is contingent on awarding of a government contract.

Yes, you read that right — until now, and for another week still, it’s been perfectly legal for anyone to pay literally untold amounts of cash to influence a whole branch of Kentucky’s government.

There are more executive-branch lobbyists than there are legislative-branch lobbyists, but the legislative lobbyists are currently the ones who get all the attention (“all the attention” being a relative term — no one really pays enough attention to lobbyists’ impact on our government).

“What a lot of people don’t know is that individuals lobby the executive branch just as they lobby the legislative branch,” Senate President Robert Stivers said back in January when he introduced the bill. “But the requirements for reporting your fees as you lobby the executive branch are virtually non-existent and nowhere as stringent as that we require for lobbying us.”

Legislative lobbyists get paid millions every year, representing special interests and pushing for new laws — that may or may not be in the public’s best interest but would certainly benefit the people paying for the lobbyists.

There are good bills that get pushed through with help from lobbyists. There are lobbyists who speak for citizens who might otherwise not have a voice. And there are lobbyists who represent causes many would consider honorable.

But there are definitely skeezy lobbying efforts, too, aimed at benefitting a few at the expense of the many.

Transparency in who gets paid what by whom to lobby helps keep the darker elements of lobbying somewhat in check, without cutting off the benefits. The executive branch hasn’t had that transparency in place for — well, how long has Kentucky been a state?

That’s a jarring and scary fact to realize. It’s ridiculous it’s taken this long to build such a basic level of transparency into our government.

As proof of how obvious it is this should have already been the law, the bill passed the House 96-0 and the Senate 37-0 before being signed by Gov. Matt Bevin — the head of the executive branch on March 14. (June 27 is the day the bill actually takes effect, because it’s 90 days after the last day of the legislative session. That’s when all regular legislation takes effect this year.)

We’re glad that in seven days, the state will finally pull back the curtain on executive-branch lobbying. Daylight is always the best disinfectant.