Compared to many states and the federal government, Nebraska has relatively few laws regarding conflicts of interest, reporting of interactions between elected officials and lobbyists, and rules regulating the influence of special interest on lawmakers. Nebraska voters have the expectation that their interests are being represented by their elected officials, not those of paid special interests and lobbyists. Statutes and rules that reflect that intention are conspicuously absent.
In keeping with my firm belief that the lawmaking process in Nebraska should be transparent, responsive, and devoid of undue influence by special interest groups, I introduced LBs 153, 663, 664, and 665. These four bills will provide greater public access and information about lobbying activity, as well as place restrictions upon certain lobbying activities. All four will be heard this week before the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee.
LB 153, frequently referred to as a “revolving door” bill, would prohibit elected officials from immediately taking a job as a paid lobbyist after leaving office, thereby leveraging their influence as a public servant for profit. The Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, State Treasurer, Secretary of State, Auditor of Public Accounts, and members of the Legislature, Public Service Commission, State Board of Education, and Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska would be required to have a two year “cooling off period” before being paid to lobby. Their staff would be prohibited for one year. The language mirrors the federal statute passed in 2007, and 33 states have similar prohibitions on lobbying.
Voters are often unaware of the amount of their tax dollars used to pay for lobbying activities. LB 663 would require lobbyists being paid with public funds–taxes, fees, or grants–to file the entire contract for public evaluation. Furthermore, LB 664 would prohibit political subdivisions from using tax revenue to employ a lobbyist. Use of taxpayer dollars for lobbying is not a new development, but it is one that obscures the policy process. Many political subdivisions, including cities, schools, natural resource districts, and community colleges will use taxpayer dollars to hire private lobbyists.
In many cases, public funds are used for membership dues for organizations who employ full time staff to lobby on their behalf. While associations may also provide other membership benefits, their lobbying efforts to keep dollars flowing to their member governments are their top priority. Assessing the total cost to taxpayers of these lobbying efforts is a challenge. These two bills would facilitate transparency in the use your tax dollars.
Finally, LB 665 would increase the ability of the public to see which interests are lobbying on a bill. Within 24 hours of contacting a member of either the legislative or executive branch about a specific bill, the lobbyist would have to report the bill number as well as the client represented. Voters could immediately identify which special interests are actively influencing a specific bill in real time.
As a senator it is not always obvious to me which special interests are lobbying on a specific piece of legislation or even whom they are representing. For the public–voters and taxpayers–the ability to clearly see which special interests are influencing state policy is even more obscure. Providing greater transparency with regard to lobbying improves the integrity of the legislative process and improves public confidence.