CITIZEN VOICES® Legislators consider adding staff to enforce lobbying, election laws
Mar 15, 2019
A recent report by the Union Leader’s Kevin Landrigan highlighted the challenge of tracking lobbying activity in the Granite State.
Lobbyists in New Hampshire are required to register with the secretary of state’s office and must wear bright orange nametags when working at the Statehouse. They are also required to file reports with the secretary of state detailing their lobbying income and related expenses.
Those reports are all available online, as an index of PDF scans. However, the scans are not searchable, and there is no comprehensive report that totals a particular firm’s lobbying income or the total spending on lobbying in New Hampshire.
More manpower for lobbying oversight?
The issue of tracking lobbying activity has also hit the legislative agenda this year with SB 230, a bill sponsored by Sen. Dan Feltes that would add four new full-time staffers to the attorney general’s office specifically tasked with overseeing the state’s campaign finance, election and lobbying laws.
“We need to do better with respect to the lobbyist disclosure,” Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said at a recent public hearing on the bill. “There needs to be a standardized review of those disclosures.”
Gov. Chris Sununu did include additional funding for the attorney general’s office in his budget bill this year, but only for one new position.
Pros and cons
Supporters of Feltes’ bill argue that the lack of manpower to enforce the state’s lobbying laws invites abuses. They note that though the lobbyists’ reports are available online, their format makes it very difficult to search for and organize data.
Opponents of the bill argue that New Hampshire’s current lobbying laws are strong enough. For example, lobbyists here are required to report their expenses as well as their income, which most other states don’t bother with. They must also disclose any contributions they make to a political campaign or PAC. Others point out that the state’s citizen legislature, which requires every bill to be given a public hearing, makes the legislative process generally more open and transparent here, including the activities of lobbyists.