By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
The result, says freshman Phoenix Senator Chuck Blanchard, is an interlocking power grid that exerts inordinate pressure on the lawmaking system.
A lot of issues are resolved by what I'll call interest-group bargaining, where the different interest groups that can afford lobbyists get in a room and work out `The Deal,'" Blanchard says. They bring `The Deal' to a legislator or to a committee and say, `We've worked out our differences, ratify this.' In a lot of instances, the legislature will ratify `The Deal.'"
The best example of lobbyists' reckless self-interest this session, Blanchard and others say, was the gutting of a bill to protect the state's riparian waters. The legislation, offered by Governor Symington, was an attempt to protect the state's remaining free-flowing streams and rivers from development.
At the outset, even environmentalists were willing to concede that the bill, borne of a yearlong task-force study under Mofford, was a step in the right direction.
But by the time it passed, says environmental lobbyist Michael Gregory, the bill was worthless. [The legislature] managed to completely strip the bill of anything in the way of protection."
That bill was basically killed by the special-interest groups," Blanchard says, even though a recent study showed that 74 percent of state residents favor protecting the environment at the cost of development. That to me reflects a legislature that is out of touch with the public," Blanchard says.
Representative Chris Cummiskey, a freshman Democrat, says he learned quickly just how prominent the lobbyists are when he took his seat last year. You can't walk more than two feet in the halls down here without running into someone who's compensated for influencing legislation," he says. They camp out full-time."
In the past two years, the legislature has tried to rein in lobbyist influence, Chuck Blanchard and others point out. Limits have been set on campaign contributions, and, beginning this year, lobbyists may no longer make political contributions while the legislature is in session.
This fall, for the first time, new reporting rules will require lobbyists to report how much money they are spending entertaining lawmakers, and a $10 cap has been placed on the value of gifts lobbyists may give legislators.
But those reforms, some fear, do not address the most valuable commodities in which lobbyists trade, the ones which may make next year's novice legislature susceptible to undue lobbyist influence. Those commodities are information and experience.
ALLAN STANTON is a heavyweight lobbyist. He has been at it for 24 years, and his clients include American Express, the Arizona Medical Association, Southland Corporation and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad company. Several lawmakers describe Stanton as a true professionalÏhe pitches his clients' point of view but doesn't lie.
Still, others say, reliance on lobbyists like Stanton characterizes the worst of the legislature.
Even the lobbyists assume it's perfectly proper that when people want information, they have to turn to lobbyists," says outgoing Senator David Bartlett. That's inherently wrong."
Wrong or not, Stanton views the education of legislators as part of his job. We are the best sources of accurate information on the subjects they are going to make decisions on," he says. The less informed people are, the more they have to rely on lobbyists."
Stanton and others point out that the unethical lobbyists do not last very long. One too many lies or artifices will ruin a lobbyist's good graces with lawmakers, so the business naturally weeds out its embarrassments.
But Chris Cummiskey says even the best-intentioned lobbyists skew" the system. Because they are always present-monitoring legislation and ready to jump in on their clients' behalf at a moment's notice-the lobbyists are going to have an advantage," Cummiskey says.
When you have someone who's here full-time watching out for the interests of any interest or group, they're better equipped to respond," he says.
With upheaval in the ranks headed their way, Cummiskey and other freshmen are looking for a silver lining. Perhaps a large bloc of freshmen, unwedded to lobbyist money and independent of thought, will be able to shake off special interests, they say.
The younger members, like Blanchard, are talking basic reform. They want to limit the number of bills each lawmaker may introduce, and guarantee that every bill will get a full hearing and floor vote. That, they say, would force the legislature to get its priorities straight.
Blanchard, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and others are also discussing steps to open up the legislative process to the public by requiring conference committees to meet and conduct their business in open sessions.
Such reform could dilute lobbyist influence, Blanchard says, and the changes are sorely needed. I think it's unacceptable to let it continue, and there are things we can do to make the process work a lot better," he says.
Representative Catherine Eden, another first-term legislator but a veteran of capitol politics, says an infusion of new blood may help the moribund body. My attitude is, I acknowledge it's broken but I'd like very much to fix it," she contends.