Oregon lobbying bill may create unintended loophole

Oregon lobbying bill may create unintended loophole
FILE - In this May 12, 2011, file photo, the Oregon Capitol is shown surrounded by spring blossoms in Salem, Ore. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, file)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A bill tweaking Oregon's government ethics laws could end up creating a new loophole that would allow lobbyists to buy food, drinks and entertainment for senior state officials without reporting the expenditures.

The bill is intended to eliminate a requirement that lobbyists report the cost of their meals when they lobby other lobbyists.

But many senior officials in the governor's office and state agencies are registered lobbyists because they advocate the governor's agenda in the Legislature. The bill appears to make money spent soliciting support from those officials exempt from reporting requirements, Ron Bersin, executive director of the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, told The Associated Press.

"My reading of it is that would be exempt," Bersin said.

The bill was scheduled for a vote in the House this week. After The Associated Press asked about the potential that it would create a new loophole, a senior lawmaker said the vote will be delayed until legislative staff can look into it.

"I think everybody understood we were talking about private lobbyists talking to other private lobbyists," said Rep. Chris Garrett, a Lake Oswego Democrat who chairs the Rules Committee that approved the measure.

"We need to get clarification on what the draft was intended to accomplish and what the draft actually says," Garrett said.

Lobbyists requested the bill after the Oregon Government Ethics Commission issued an advisory opinion earlier this year saying lobbyists should report their food, drink and entertainment expenses if they solicit another lobbyist's support for a particular bill.

Lobbyists regularly eat lunch or drink coffee together in the cafe in the capitol basement or Salem restaurants, and they complained that tracking and reporting those expenses would be extremely onerous.

Paul Cosgrove, president of the Oregon Capitol Club, an association of lobbyists, said the bill isn't intended to eliminate disclosure of expenses from lobbying government officials, and he disagrees that it would do so. But he said the bill can be changed in the Senate, if needed.

"If there's ambiguity we can clarify it," Cosgrove said.

More than 30 staffers in Gov. John Kitzhaber's office are registered as lobbyists, including many of the policy advisers who recommend actions the governor should take on legislation and public policy matters.

Many state agency directors and senior managers are also registered to lobby.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.