House File 346 aims to bring transparency to taxpayer-funded lobbying. It advanced through its Monday subcommittee with approval from the two Republicans.

Victoria Sinclair of Iowans for Tax Relief testified in support of the bill. Sinclair said “it’s pretty simple” and does not prohibit taxpayer-funded lobbying by political subdivisions, it just subjects the activity to the same open records laws that government employees are subjected to.

Ultimately, Sinclair said, people have a right to know how their tax dollars are being used.

Drew Klein with Americans For Prosperity also spoke in favor of the bill.

“To be honest we would like to see this go a little bit further,” Klein said. “We don’t think it’s unreasonable to put some more restrictions on taxpayer-funded lobbying.”

Klein said that, in reality, city council members and supervisors more than likely have access to their members of the Iowa Legislature.

Brad Epperly with the Iowa Newspaper Association also testified in support, saying that openness is a good thing.

“It’s also important that folks get an understanding of just how much is being spent,” Epperly said.

He referenced a bill from last week in which political subdivisions were wanting to be able to just publish legal notifications on their websites rather than in newspapers.

“Which, of course, is not public notice by definition,” Epperly said.

While people who lobby for the political subdivisions cite budget constraints on a bill like that, there’s plenty of money for these taxpayer-funded lobbyists.

A number of lobbyists representing different government entities said they were registered neutral on the bill, but offered plenty of criticisms.

Doug Struyk with the Iowa State Bar Association expressed concern about confidential records and the ethics of attorneys being potentially challenged by the legislation due to some language in the bill.

Democrat Rep. Ross Wilburn said he assumes the bill is an effort to increase transparency, but he has concerns about the audits that cities, counties and school boards would undergo.

He said plenty of other things, but I could not hear him through his multiple masks.

Republican Rep. Jon Jacobsen said he supports the bill “wholeheartedly.” He referenced Justice Louis Brandeis, who said sunlight is the greatest of all disinfectants.

“I do believe that all taxpayers have a right to more information on what they’re giving,” Jacobsen said. “I’d go so far as to say that, right now, 95 percent of all donors to legislative campaigns don’t know what candidate their money is going to in a legislative race. And we can have a little conversation about that, but we won’t do that today.”

Jacobsen said he’s open to amending the bill to address some of the concerns raised by lobbyists at the subcommittee.

GOP Rep. Rob Bacon said he too likes the idea of transparency in the bill while recognizing areas of concern with confidentiality agreements and other things in the bill.

Jacob Hall

Author: Jacob Hall