Ethics Committees in the Iowa House and Senate are advancing new rules for businesses and groups that lobby the legislature.   The changes have been in the works for months, a response to an incident involving a legislator who attended a lobbying group’s reception nearly a year ago. 

Representative Kerry Burt was charged with drunken driving last February. The Iowa Pharmacy Association was five months late in filing its financial disclosure report about the reception Burt had attended earlier in the evening.  Senate President Jack Kibbie, a Democrat from Emmetsburg who is chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, says the bill will make it easier for the public to track how much groups spend lobbying legislators.

“Basically, it’s a message to get everybody on the same page,” Kibbie says. Representative Tyler Olson, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, says the public can already go online to track which bills certain groups support or oppose.  With the proposed changes, the public will be able to quickly discover how much businesses or groups are spending to lobby state government.

“So the public can take the information about how much a particular entity is spending on lobbying…and get an outlook of…what pieces of legislation different entities are trying to influence,” Olson says. 

Under the current rules, a business or group files reports with the legislature, outlining how much they’re spending to lobby lawmakers.  The group also files another report with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, outlining how much they spend lobbying the executive branch of state government.  Under the new rules, Olson says all that information would be combined and available online.

“The public wants to know who is paying how much and to influence what legislation,” Olson says. “So instead of having a particular entity paying individual lobbyists and those lobbyists reporting the dollar amounts separately, we’ll be able to go to one place and determine how much an entity is spending as a whole.”

Another facet of the legislation that cleared the House and Senate Ethics Committees today calls for any interest group holding a reception for lawmakers to file a spending report 28 days after the event.  

This evening at least two groups were scheduled to host receptions for legislators.  The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence planned to hold a reception at a restaurant a few blocks away from the statehouse.  The Iowa Wholesale Beer Distributors Association was to host a legislative reception in a hotel near the capitol.  On Thursday morning, the Iowa Department of Human Rights is hosting a breakfast reception for legislators.