Lobbyists play waiting game, hoping for time
DENVER – For anyone who forgot or never knew, a visit to the state Capitol provides an obvious reminder of how lobbyists got their name.As lawmakers debate bills on the House or Senate floors, people peer in from a small room behind a glass window at the back of each chamber, monitoring the day’s events. Many also spill out into the main halls of the Capitol, noisily chatting away with each other, on their cell phones and, when they get the chance, with lawmakers.Colorado’s registered lobbyists – some 600 in all – aren’t allowed in the House and Senate chambers, where they could lean on lawmakers even when they’re voting. During each body’s second reading of bills – but not during the third and final readings, when votes are formally recorded – lobbyists are allowed to hand business cards to sergeants-at-arms who deliver them to lawmakers, an indication a lobbyist wants to talk.Clearly, there are companies doing a brisk business in business cards around the Capitol.”Some days the lobby … you can hardly get through,” said state Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park.Some lobbyists face a greater challenge getting face time with lawmakers now, following passage in November of Amendment 41. It limits giving of gifts and meals to lawmakers. Not all lobbyists dislike the measure, however. Pam Kiely, a rookie lobbyist with Environment Colorado, said her group couldn’t afford to be buying meals for lawmakers. She believes Amendment 41 has resulted in more equal access to all organizations, rather than favoring the more well-heeled ones.”It’s put the public back in public policy-making,” she said.Laura Locke is a contract lobbyist whose clients include several agricultural organizations. She said lobbyists still manage to get time with lawmakers, but the crackdown on meals means there’s less chance for grassroots members of groups she represents to meet decision-makers. Previously lawmakers occasionally addressed members at legislative breakfasts.For lobbyists these days, accessing lawmakers often means lurking around their offices, smiling like salesmen (or perhaps like journalists?) and hoping to get a minute of their time. State Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, said some lobbying firms even have been hiring females so they can catch women lawmakers during bathroom breaks.”I get followed into the ladies room. It’s not pleasant,” she said.Curry said Amendment 41 has reduced her chances of getting to talk to colleagues in the Senate, whom she used to see at meal events. She doesn’t see constituents and fellow House members as much as she used to either.These days, she said, “I go home and heat up a can of soup. I don’t go and spend $20 on dinner.”Whatever the merits or drawbacks of Amendment 41, lobbyists such as Kiely and Locke make no apologies for the role they play in advising lawmakers on bills.Said Kiely, “There’s a lot of people trying to get a lot of things done in a short amount of time. … They really rely on the lobbyists to help them with legislation.”Locke said her job lets her work on issues she believes in. And integrity counts with lawmakers, she adds.”If we don’t tell them the truth then they’re never going to ask our opinion again,” she said.Said White, “The lobby, despite the bad rap they get, I think offers a lot of perspectives.”The information role of lobbyists has grown increasingly important thanks to term limits, which have reduced longevity and the resulting level of legislative knowledge among lawmakers.White demonstrated the trust he places in lobbyists when state Rep. Judy Solano tried without success to get him to commit to supporting her “net metering” bill. It would require utilities to buy power generated by customers’ home renewable energy systems. White was resistant because rural electric associations have been telling him it would cost them and their customers money.”I’m comfortable if my REAs don’t like it, I won’t like it,” he said.Solano was frustrated by his position, but added, “I think hearing from constituents does have an effect on you.”Solano said, “I just think that they (REAs) have lobbied very hard down here.”She felt as if White failed to listen to another group representing the interests of electricity consumers. That may only exemplify a point White makes when it comes to lobbyists and their special interests.”You talk about special interest legislation, I’ve got to tell you, everything down here is a special interest to somebody,” he said.Serving special interests means serving constituents, and lawmakers proudly display on their office walls plaques and memorabilia that groups have presented them to thank them for their efforts.Only White can boast a trophy depicting boxer shorts with bullets lying beside it – recognition from a think tank for his efforts in getting Colorado’s landmark no-call list law passed. White had joked during the debate on the bill that he had to prepare himself by putting on bulletproof underwear. Contact Dennis Webb: firstname.lastname@example.orgPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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