Lobbyists who try to influence legislation or state agency rules are going to have to be more open about what they are doing, and who they are working for under a bill that won preliminary approval in the Colorado House on Tuesday.
The measure, HB1248, is designed to give the public more details about who lobbyists are working for, and what their clients expect of them.
Lawmakers behind the bill say such legislation is needed to shine a brighter light on the nearly $30 million a year that is spent by businesses and special interest groups on lobbying efforts.
"That's more money spent to influence lawmakers than was spent to elect lawmakers," said Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Littleton, who introduced the bill with Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora. "The danger of this is that it gives lobbyists access and influence that the general public doesn't have. So if money equals speech, it is important that we know where that money is coming from."
The bill requires more frequent and more detailed reporting by professional lobbyists, who already are required to register with the Secretary of State's Office, and report what bills they are supporting, monitoring or opposing.
Current law, also requires them to disclose who is paying them, and by how much, but that information is limited.
The bill changes that by making it clearer that lobbyists don't enjoy a kind-of attorney-client privilege, and can't hide who their ultimate client really is. So instead of listing some group that is funded by a particular client, the lobbyists would have to list who's really funding them.
"There is not a tremendous amount of public trust in the political process right now," Weissman said. "I do believe we must do what we can to shore that up. There are few better ways to do that than bring transparency to lobbying practices around this Legislature, and that's what this bill does."
No one spoke out against the measure on the House floor or when the committee approved it last month, but three Republicans did vote against it in committee, including Rep. Janice Rich, R-Grand Junction.
The bill needs a final House vote before heading to the Senate.