Lawmaker wants to fix financial disclosure

Bill would put fee on lobbyists, others who report to commission

Staff writerJanuary 24, 2013 

State Rep. Jim Moeller is reviving his yearly quest to raise money for the state Public Disclosure Commission to retool its online finance disclosure system.

The Vancouver Democrat said his House Bill 1005 would raise up to $1.2 million per biennium by levying a registration fee on lobbyists and politicians who file reports at the campaign-finance agency.

“Hope springs eternal,” Moeller said Tuesday after a hearing on the measure in the House Government Operations & Elections Committee, where it drew a mixture of support and criticism from lawmakers and lobbyists. “I think there is more emphasis on more efficient government. I think there is more emphasis on transparency in government.”

Moeller has broadened his approach in two ways compared with past failed attempts:

 • His proposed fee hits more people working for pay in the political system. Moeller estimates he could raise $600,000 a year by enacting a $200 fee for all elected officials and lobbyists who earn at least $10,000 and smaller fees for government lobbyists and others who are required to file reports at the PDC. His past efforts focused on a smaller group, but this effort still includes exemptions for those who are not highly paid.

 • Moeller wants to merge the state’s Legislative Ethics Board and Executive Ethics Board into the PDC, which he’d expand from five to seven citizen members.

Contract lobbyist Steve Gano, who runs a lobbying firm with his wife, Kathleen, spoke strongly in favor of the bill. The Ganos represent oil, financial and aerospace interests, and Steve Gano said the public’s trust is important to what he does, which means disclosure needs to be good.

Echoing complaints of others, Gano said the PDC’s site today “is best described as clunky … It locks you out. It freezes you out.’’ He said the result is that the average citizen would have a hard time “to try figure out exactly what we are doing” with campaign and lobbying spending — even though he and others are not trying to hide anything.

Gano also said the $200 annual fee he and his wife would have to pay is “basically two tanks of gas’’ and would not be a hardship.

But Jerry Vanderwood, spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of Washington, testified that fees could pile up – hitting $800 a year for his association, which registers several of its employees. And contract lobbyist Bob Cooper questioned why a fee would be charged for those who want to exercise a basic constitutional right.

“You don’t put a tax on religion. You studiously avoid a specific tax on the press. Why would you put a tax on the right to petition government?” Cooper asked. That said, Cooper said the PDC system needs a “vast improvement’’ and he thinks a general revenue source should be used.

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