April 2, 2009

Lobbyists undermine transparency on closed-door meetings

Lobbyists are about as popular as seal clubbers, AIG employees, or Rod Blagojevich for reasons like this.

Earlier this year, Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna and State Auditor Brian Sonntag sat down with lobbyists of local governments to see if they could work out a compromise on the taping of the executive meetings, to ensure compliance with the state's Open Meetings Act.

As one would expect, the lobbyists agreed enthusiastically — to the meeting. And what was the outcome of this synergistic collaboration of transparency minded souls? A toothless, watered-down, useless piece of legislation.

The compromise? Only governments that a court already had found guilty of violating the Open Meetings Act would have to tape their executive sessions, which would allow a judge to check up on them if future violations were alleged.

That's right, only if they had gotten caught before would they to be forced to open up their executive session.

As bad as that was, it turns out that the lobbyists didn't even support the "compromise" bill that they had helped create. Create a powerless compromise bill, and then not even support it. Fantastic.

Not all lobbyists are bad people. Worthwhile groups exists that employ lobbyists. But this is the epitome of why lobbyists get a bad name. Let's hope Washington citizens can find a way to get executive meetings open and taped for the public's benefit. After all, the citizens do pay the bills.