Transparent and Effective Government is Good For Business

By Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea

After weathering a prolonged and challenging recession, Rhode Island is poised to enter a new era of economic growth and opportunity. As I speak with small business owners across the state, from Bristol to Burrillville, I hear a renewed sense of optimism and confidence that we are finally turning the corner. Business owners also tell me that they want their government to run effectively and transparently, and that it offers a level playing field for everyone. That is why I have made reforming our lobbying system a top priority.

Rhode Island’s current lobbying laws are well-intentioned, but lack the clarity that’s needed for compliance and enforcement. Furthermore, our lobbying laws need reasonable penalties to deter improper activity and the authority to enforce the law.

Earlier this month, I presented legislation that will strengthen and clarify Rhode Island’s confusing and cumbersome lobbying laws while ensuring full transparency in government. The Lobbying Reform Act of 2015 (S 904 and H 6178) will accomplish this by clarifying the definitions of lobbyist and lobbying.

For example, a business owner who goes to the State House to represent her or his own company’s interests at a legislative hearing or at an executive agency meeting will not be considered a lobbyist. However, if the business owner hires an attorney or consultant to lobby regarding a proposal, that

company’s lobbyist needs to register that relationship, and the contract’s value, with the Department of State within 7 days. This makes it clear that anyone who is being paid to lobby or who is the engaged representative of another person must register as a lobbyist.

The legislation was developed with input from a diverse task force of experts and citizen advocates. It replaces existing legislative- and executive-branch lobbying statutes with a single comprehensive statute. This enables us to simplify the reporting requirements – cutting red tape for compliance with the law.

The proposed legislation will also provide a solid framework for investigations and hearings, granting the Secretary of State the same subpoena power currently available to other state agencies that regulate industries – such as the Department of Environmental Management and Department of Business Regulation. Finally, it will strengthen penalties to reflect the severity of the violations. In short, it provides the tools necessary to ensure that Rhode Island’s lobbying laws are taken seriously.

I am deeply appreciative to the legislative leaders that have sponsored my lobbying reform proposal:  State Senators Erin P. Lynch and Maryellen Goodwin, and State Representatives Robert B. Jacquard, Jared R. Nunes, Raymond A. Hull, Arthur J. Corvese and Anastasia Williams. These legislators have joined me in making sure that Rhode Island strengthens, clarifies and ensures transparency around lobbying.

Businesses, particularly small businesses, need effective and transparent government in order to succeed. This legislation is a critical and necessary step in that direction. I urge you to contact

your legislators and ask them to support and pass the Lobby Reform Act of 2015. Let’s make Rhode Island known nationally as a place that values transparency and effective government.


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Avatar About the Author: The Rhode Island Small Business Journal is a printed monthly magazine and an online resource for the aspiring and start-up entrepreneur and small business owner.

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