Editorial: Denney right to scrutinize state lobbying

Secretary of State Lawerence Denney is correct to look into the matter of lobbying activities by state employees. It is among Denney’s duties to keep the public informed about who is trying to influence our Legislature, and especially if the exchange of some type of gift or benefit is involved.

We might not think of state employees as lobbyists, but they fit the very broad definition: “Anyone who attempts through contacts with, or causing others to make contact with, members of the Legislature or legislative committees or an executive official, to influence the approval, modification or rejection of any legislation by the legislature of the state of Idaho or any committee thereof or by the governor or to develop or maintain relationships with, promote good will, or entertain members of the legislature or executive officials.”

Some state employees lobby, but there is some murkiness about which ones should report and under what circumstances. Denney, just six months into his first term, asks an excellent question, as reported by the Idaho Statesman’s Bill Dentzer last week: “If the Department of Transportation invites all the legislators to dinner, they should report it, the money they spend. And I think that’s going to be the solution. The people have a right to know if a state agency is doing lobbying.”

We couldn’t agree more. Denney’s scrutiny of this matter began earlier this year when there was a report that some state board of education members had been treated to round-trip expenses to attend the Fiesta Bowl, at which Boise State defeated Arizona. That did not happen, though.

But in the process Denney has come across some loose language in our system that the Legislature would be well-advised to tighten up. Some state employees are under the impression that they do not have to register and report their activities. Two opinions from the Idaho Attorney General’s Office from 2007 and 2015 answer some, but not all, of the outstanding questions.

This matter needs attention and should head the list of items the Legislature entertains in the 2016 session. Before we continue to grant exemptions from registering and reporting to some state employees, let’s put the bar higher and simply demand maximum transparency and disclosure. Denney’s idea to pursue more clarity is a step in the right direction. Let’s develop a consistent set of rules that don’t rely on interpretation, and then let’s err on the side of identifying what has been proffered and report it.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.