The state’s Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council met Tuesday making no mention of my column published in July 21’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, pressing for specific bill numbers, budget item numbers and other details on the state’s lobbyist disclosure forms. I had been told in advance the issue wouldn’t be added to the agenda.
In fact the council’s meeting lasted less than 30 minutes, had no business items, and the only vote was on previous meeting minutes. Those minutes reveal that the June meeting’s big decision was to approve a staff suggestion to add student loan balances among debts disclosed by public officials.
I don’t want anybody to think I’m making up the complaint that the forms disclose nothing at all, despite a direction to be as specific as possible, so I pulled a few examples at random. Who owns up to working on which of the 3,722 individual pieces of legislation at the 2018 session?
As previously noted on July 9 most of the filings lack specifics and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council has sent signals this is acceptable with its published examples.
Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce: “Business Issues.” Well, that narrows it down to 600 or so bills.
Virginia Chamber of Commerce: “Executive and Legislative Actions and Procurement Transactions.” I looked at this a few times before I realized it simply repeated back the phrase from the question.
Mecklenburg County: “Matters involving issues affecting local government.”
Fairfax County Water Authority: “Matters of interest to the Fairfax County Water Authority, including but not limited to, issues arising under the Virginia Water and Waste Authorities Act.” But not limited to.
Norfolk Southern Corporation: “All matters affecting Norfolk Southern Corporation.”
City of Norfolk: “Local government.”
Virginia League of Conservation Voters: “Matters related to land conservation, land use, energy issues, and transportation financing.”
Appalachian Power: “All legislative matters of concern to Appalachian Power and its customers, specifically, and to the electric power industry, generally.”
Verizon, Inc.: “All matters pertaining to the principal.” Another arm of the company did list specific bills on its report.
Virginia Association of Mutual Insurance Companies: “Matters relating to insurance companies regulated under Chapter 25 of Title 38.2”
Virginia Trial Lawyers Association: “Executive and Legislative Actions and Procurement Transactions which affect the civil and criminal justice system and administrative laws, including those governing Worker’s Compensation.” Another statement which would cover hundreds of bills.
Richmond Public Schools: “All matters pertaining to K-12 public education in Richmond.”
Virginia Association of Realtors: “Any and all matters affecting real estate.”
Virginia Banker’s Association: “All matters affecting financial institutions.”
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company: “Monitor and advocate on life, health, dental and vision insurance bills.” Advocate! A verb!
Altria Client Services: “Tobacco-Related Issues for Altria Client Services LLC and its Affiliates — Philip Morris USA Inc., John Middleton Co., U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., and Nu Mark LLC.” At least we have a full list of all the related companies which are not reporting what they worked on.
Some do get fairly specific without bill numbers: Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association: “Matters relating to hospitals and health care. Specifically, during this reporting period proposed changes to certificate of public need laws, legislative and regulatory actions pertaining to hospitals and physicians, Medicaid expansion, and budget actions.” This is the only one I saw that mentioned it “proposed changes” to something.
Some of the major lobby firms with multiple clients do routinely list bill numbers, as did Dominion Energy, Verizon Communications and a few others I found. Listing the bill and budget item numbers would not be a burden for anyone. There is still time for the Ethics Council to make that the expectation for 2019.There are currently no comments highlighted.