The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday October 7th

Bill would allow legislators to receive gifts from lobbyists

A bill introduced last week in the N.C. General Assembly aims to change the way lobbyists are treated in state politics.

In the last decade, laws regulating lobbying in North Carolina have tightened in the wake of scandals involving former Speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives Jim Black.

LOOSENING LOBBYING RULES

House Bill 640 would reduce the restrictions on interactions between N.C. lobbyists and lawmakers:

  • Legislators would be able to accept gifts from lobbyists, an act which is currently prohibited by state law.
  • They must then report the gifts, or face a fine up to three times the amount of the gift.

Current law in North Carolina forbids lobbyists from buying gifts — ranging from a cup of coffee at Starbucks to a round of golf at the Carolina Country Club — under any circumstances for lawmakers.

But House Bill 640, introduced by Rep. Robert Brawley, R-Iredell, would loosen restrictions on lobbyists, allowing them to provide gifts to politicians as long as they report them.

Brawley said the current tight restrictions on interactions between politicians and lobbyists are unnecessary and a hindrance to developing relationships.

“I don’t think being friends with a lobbyist is a dirty thing,” he said. “I mean, they can’t even buy me a Coca-Cola or a MoonPie.”

Theresa Kostrzewa, a corporate lobbyist based in Raleigh, said she supports the idea behind Brawley’s bill.

The law barring lobbyists from giving any gifts to politicians, she said, takes credit away from the voters, who are informed enough to make a decision on whether a politician is under the influence of a lobbyist, she said.

“This type of law gives complete sunshine to expenditures and leaves it up to the voters to make the judgment,” Kostrezwa said.

Brawley also said lobbyists are people and, by their constitutional right, should be able to grant gifts to politicians in whom they have a vested interest. The lobbyists, he added, represent the general views of the public.

But Frank Baumgartner, a UNC political science professor who co-authored the book “Lobbying and Policy Change,” said the idea that lobbyists represent the public’s interests is “from another planet.”

Baumgartner said that while lobbyists do have the constitutional right to participate in campaign donations, many of them represent wealthy industries.

“We need a law that reduces the opportunity for these luxury gifts that give unfair advantages to wealthy lobbyists,” he said.

Kostrezwa said the House bill is unlikely to pass and is currently only sponsored by Brawley.

But Baumgartner said the nature of the bill still raises the question of how much freedom lobbyists should be granted in working with politicians.

Kostrezwa said there needs to be a focus on trust in the lobbying business.

“Lobbyists are doing business with these people, and it is very difficult to get to know someone for five minutes in an office interview,” she said. “Trust is very important when you are making decisions about laws.”

Contact the desk editor at state@dailytarheel.com.

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