McCormack Speaks

Time for a Lobbying Law Revamp?


by Christopher Dunne, McCormack Scholar

flag and gavelIt’s been seven years since Massachusetts last reviewed its lobbying laws and while the legislature is revisiting other aspects of government integrity this spring, statutes and regulations covering lobbyists are not on the table. My master’s capstone research aims to perform an in-depth check-up on these laws by interviewing stakeholders and analyzing data to determine if an update is needed.

While re-convening the Public Integrity Task Force that shaped the law last in 2009 under Governor Deval Patrick is not an option, many members of that body have been happy to talk about that experience and their views on how the law has functioned. Task Force members ranged from elected officials to legal experts to advocates, each with differing thoughts on the right approach to ensuring public confidence and trust in our political system. Speaking with lobbyists tasked with actually complying with the law will also provide some good qualitative data for consideration. But what about the quantitative side of things?

The Commonwealth requires registration of anyone who engages in lobbying above a dollar and hour threshold. These registrations and the biannual reports tied to them make up the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Lobbyist Registration and Reporting System (LRRS), a treasure trove of online, publicly-searchable data. With the comings and goings (and spending habits) of thousands of lobbyists available at the click of a mouse, I might find the answer to lots of questions in these reams of numbers. To find the right questions to ask to assess the effectiveness of the law, I need to look at the intent of the Task Force’s recommendations.

The 2009 Public Integrity Task Force outlined transparency and clarity as their main goals in reforming the law. With respect to transparency, they recommended that lobbyists disclose any paid “background work” and that penalties for failure to disclose should be raised. These suggestions give us one way to measure the law’s effectiveness quantitatively: the dollar figures reported by lobbyists should have risen after the implementation of the law, a hypothesis I can easily test.

Another area where increased transparency might have an identifiable effect is in the sheer number of  registered lobbyists. The Task Force recommended a reduction in the “incidental lobbyist” exemption and also put forth penalties for failure to register. The legislature ultimately adopted these recommendations (albeit in a somewhat watered down form) so  I might expect to see a change in the number of registered lobbyists pre- and post-law.

Once the major players have weighed in and the data I collect has been analyzed, I will have recommendations on the effectiveness of the law and/or recommendations on how it ought to be changed.

Christopher Dunne is a student and McCormack Scholar at UMass Boston’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program.  He currently works for State Senator Adam Hinds (D-Pittsfield) as his legislative and budget director, managing the Senator’s state budget and policy agenda.

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