The Senate Government Operations Committee, last seen saying yes to the Fourteenth Star, held a hearing Friday on a bill that would increase disclosure requirements for ad campaigns meant to influence legislative debate.
The bill would require disclosure of public-policy advertising over $1,000 within 48 hours. Under current law, disclosure is only required three times a year: January 25, April 25, and July 25. The April report is the biggie, since it covers the bulk of a legislative session. And it comes at the very end of the session, which means the disclosure is almost useless for finding out who’s spending money to influence which piece of legislation.
The Associated Press’ Wilson Ring was there, and reports that one of the top lobbyists in Montpelier, Andrew MacLean, testified against the idea.
Ring failed, however, to deliver the context. Which I will now do. You’re welcome.
MacLean makes a darn fine living representing numerous business interests. He told the committee that the 48-hour disclosure requirement would be difficult for lobbyists to meet.
Which is, pardon my French, pure bullshit.
The same requirement is already placed on political candidates in the last 45 days of a campaign season. If candidates can meet the requirement, surely a well-endowed lobbying firm can do so.
MacLean also efforted the First Amendment argument — “the proposal… could infringe on free speech rights” — which is also bullshit. Disclosure imposes no limits on speech.
His alternative? “… change your disclosure dates and maybe add one or two.”
Uh-huh. And why, you might ask, is Mr. MacLean so anxious to avoid prompt disclosure? Committee chair Jeanette White gave us a hint:
[White] said the proposal grew out of a case in which a lot of money was spent trying to get members of the House to vote against an issue. She did not say what the issue was.
Well, I’ll tell you what the issue was. It was the 2013 attempt to impose a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The beverage and retail industries mounted an all-out effort to kill the bill, spending more than $600,000 in the first three months of 2013. We didn’t find that out until April 25, 2013, by which time the beverage tax was dead.
The chief local lobbyist for that effort? Andrew MacLean.
Fast forward to 2015, when the legislature is once again considering a beverage tax, and Andrew MacLean is once again at the forefront of a very expensive advertising and lobbying campaign against the bill.
Naturally, he prefers disclosure to be as infrequent and untimely as possible.
MacLean’s testimony was motivated by blatant self-interest. I hope the committee sees through that, and proceeds with a reasonable effort to add some transparency to the flow of money through our politics.