Hackney Pushes Lobby Reforms
The bill passed the House of Representatives by a 106-3 majority Thursday in an initial vote.
Hackney, an Orange County Democrat, represents a district that includes Cameron precinct and half of Carthage precinct. He is House majority leader.
"I think we have a good package of bills here," Hackney said Friday morning. "It will be a big change in Raleigh."
As co-chairman of the House Ethics Study Committee, Hackney helped to steer the complex legislation through his chamber. Rep. Julia Howard, a Davie County Republican, was the other co-chairman. Rep. Pryor Gibson, an Anson County Democrat, was the main sponsor of the bill.
Hackney said the most important provision of the bill is the ban on big gifts from lobbyists and their clients to legislators. He cites two bills, one making it improper for lobbyists to give gifts to legislators, the other prohibiting gifts for the governor and other officials in the Executive Branch.
"This is a big change for North Carolina," Hackney said.
Under the bill, violators could face a misdemeanor charge, and conviction could mean a two-year ban on lobbying and a civil fine of up to $5,000 for each violation. No penalty is set forth for legislators who receive gifts.
The overwhelming preliminary vote Thursday was bipartisan, and all three of the dissenting votes were cast by Democrats.
One of the dissenters, Rep. Beverly Earle of Charlotte, expressed concern about the effect the bill would have on nonprofits.
"She felt that nonprofits should not be covered by the same regulations," said Hackney, who calls the bill fair to everyone.
The legislation, which still must pass the Senate, would prohibit lobbyists and their clients from offering gifts to legislative employees, the governor, and other statewide elected officials and to officials of the Executive Branch. Lobbyists would further be limited to cumulative spending of $4,000 per campaign for candidates for state and local offices.
Although the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the legislation, the bill has been weakened since its first introduction earlier in the session. That weakening includes removal of a one-year prohibition on lawmakers, statewide elected officials and state agency heads from becoming lobbyists. In 2005, the legislature approved a six-month prohibition, which remains in effect.
The restriction affects the period in which lawmakers and other officials must wait before registering as lobbyists, a popular occupation for former officials.
Also absent from the bill is a provision that would prohibit lobbyists from raising campaign money.
Interest in lobbying reform heated up this year in the wake of a controversy that developed in the office of state House Speaker Jim Black, whose former unpaid political director, Meredith Norris, and two others face misdemeanor charges of lobbying law violations.
Those allegations, along with other issues relating to the state's lottery program, angered many legislators and directed unwanted attention toward the speaker, a popular and effective Democrat from Mecklenburg County.
Hackney said some changes may yet be made in the bill, but he expects the bill to pass both the House and the Senate before the legislature adjourns, probably late next week.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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