Mike Jopek, Roger Koopman, and legislative reform efforts

by Jay Stevens 

It looks like Mike Jopek’s (D-Whitefish) proposed reform of constituency accounts is meeting resistance – the Billings Gazette suspects it has to do with lobbying efforts:

The first attempt this legislative session to shed light on secretive “constituency accounts” got little support Wednesday, as lobbying groups lined up to oppose an ethics measure that would also overhaul their reporting requirements.

Pogie has already written eloquently about why constituency accounts need reform — basically they’re unreported accounts candidates can use for whatever they like – and Jopek’s bill, HB202, would put an end to the accounts’ loopholes:

Jopek wants to set a cap on the amount of money put into constituency accounts, ban corporations from donating to the accounts and require annual disclosure reports on expenditures and donations.

But Jopek’s bill goes further than just reforming the constituency accounts. It would also “amend the ban on government officials becoming lobbyists to ban lobbyists from taking jobs as directors of state agencies or departments” and requires “those who hire lobbyists to report the source of the money for their activities.”

The last amendment is where the bill appears to be generating a buzz from lobbyists. Apparently the PACs and other interest groups that hire lobbyists want the right to keep their member lists confidential. And, you know, I can understand that. At the very least it deserves discussion.

In the end, I think Jopek’s bill tries to do too much. Reform of the constituency funds is sorely need and almost universally desired. One bill should be used to address that reform. The other issues deserve their own bills and separate discussions. Jopek’s desire to institute lobbying reform is commendable, and I might be inclined to support all of the provisions of this bill, but reform of the constituency funds should not depend on support of all the proposals.

(On a side note, Roger Koopman’s [R-Bozeman] reform bills get a little play in the same Billings Gazette article. To be honest, I’m left scratching my head. Here are the reforms Koopman wants:

LC 0792: allows private citizens to take civil action if their written complaints aren’t acted on by the commissioner of political practices within 30 days

HB 163: prohibits the use of public funds or employees in lobbying efforts

Weird, huh? They both seem to have been born out of personal experience, or something. Like he made a gazillion complaints that were duly ignored.

LC 0792 seems, well, impractical and expensive. What does it mean to “take action”? Can’t we agree some complaints are more valid than others? And it seems clear that this bill would create frivolous litigation at taxpayer expense. [Still…I certainly would have liked to see some action taken against those c*cksuckers who implemented the Burns-backing automated robo-push-polls before the recent election…]

The second seems impractical. Does HB 163 apply to, say, the governor’s staffers attempting to promote, say, the governor’s budget among legislators? Does this mean the different state agencies won’t have a say in drafting or considering legislation? Let’s be honest: usually the most informed people on, say, forest management or public education are public employees. Shouldn’t they have a say or some influence in the legislature on what policy the government takes?

I have to say that these reform bills don’t seem to be well-thought-out or effective. Just about what you’d expect from a guy who once started a near-fistfight on the floor of the state house and who wanted death certificates for abortions. In other words, we’re not dealing with someone who’s necessarily rational.)

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  1. Jen. That Jen.

    Re: constituancy accts – Jopek’s will probably not pass because of the lobbying reporting changes attached.

    Heads up on a new bill in the hopper (full disclaimer, I’m related to the sponsor). Sen. Gallus wants to eliminate constituancy accounts all together, but fund a dollar amount yearly for legislators to use for constituancy services (education, travel, mailings re: legislation or other constituancy issues).

    Check it out – I like it a lot, and we don’t generally agree on these sorts of things.




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