House bill would impose fees on lobbyists, others

YAKIMA — A bill proposed in the Washington state Legislature would require some elected officials, lobbyists and entities that hire lobbyists to pay a fee to help pay for and improve operations of the Public Disclosure Commission.

The bill’s sponsors, nine Democrats, say it is intended to unify processes, cut costs and increase public disclosure.

Similar bills have been proposed in the past and failed.

Voters created the commission by initiative to ensure the state’s campaign finance laws are enforced and to provide the public access to information about financing of political campaigns and lobbying activities. In fiscal year 2012, the commission budget just tops $2 million.

House Bill 1005 would require political committees to pay a $200 annual fee to the commission. Lobbyists who earn $10,000 or more a year, companies paying more than $10,000 a year to lobby lawmakers, and elected officials whose salaries exceed $10,000 a year also would be required to pay the fee.

The bill would require government entities that employ more than 50 full-time employees would be required to pay $150 annually.

All money from the fees would go into a new account to be used only for improving computer and database technology to make campaign finance and lobbying reports more readily available to the public, under the bill.

Candidates for elected office are required to file reports to the commission detailing financial contributions. Paid lobbyists must register with the commission before lobbying state government. They are required to file monthly reports disclosing their compensation, entertainment expenses, campaign contributions given, and other lobbying-related expenditures.

The commission currently operates an online, searchable database for campaign finance reports, but such a database is not yet available for lobbying information.

More than 900 lobbyists registered with the commission for the 2012 legislative session, representing many more companies and clients.

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