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Capitol Alert
By Taryn Luna
tluna@sacbee.com
January 21, 2016 12:23 PM

  • Change requires groups to itemize ‘other payments to influence’
  • Lobbyists haven’t protested new rule
  • Critics warn that rules can be circumvented

The state’s political watchdog adopted a new lobbying rule Thursday intended to shine a spotlight on ex-lawmakers for hire who use their clout to influence legislation, powerful interest groups behind misleading advertising campaigns and activities currently concealed in a catch-all category of regulatory filings.

The Fair Political Practices Commission voted at its regular board meeting to require interest groups and lobbyists to break out and itemize expenses in the “other payments to influence” category in quarterly state reports. The category is meant to capture spending related to lobbying efforts.

The prior rules allowed groups to report the category – which includes payments for office heating bills as well as more influential spending on grass-roots campaigns – as a lump sum without details about where the money is spent.

Proponents of the change say it’s a long overdue update to regulations set forth in the 1970s and better adapts to 21st-century lobbying tactics. Today, the most influential interest groups in the state spend the bulk of their money on “other” category spending. The top 50 lobbyist employers reported 65.3 percent of a total $73.5 million in spending as “other payments to influence” in the first nine months of 2015, according to an analysis by The Sacramento Bee.

“Lobbying is largely a self-regulated industry, and in order to make sure people are playing by the rules, we need this type of information that shines a light on what’s going on,” said Jodi Remke, chair of the FPPC. The change will take effect on July 1.

Still, some question whether the new rules go far enough.

Carmen Balber, executive director of the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, said the FPPC’s attempts to plug one loophole have created another. Balber said an option to disclose payments as “public affairs” will allow a lobbyist employer to pay a third party to set up advertising and other services without having to explain where the money went.

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