Ethics Commission calls for groups to disclose money spent on legislative-related ads

06/28/2012 04:53 PM

The Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission is recommending that businesses or groups must disclose how much they spend on ads advocating for or against legislation during the General Assembly session.

The commission forwarded that and several other recommendations to the Legislative Research Commission this week, and the suggested rule changes have been forwarded on to the interim committee on state government. Lawmakers would have to approve the new ethics rules in the next session, which starts in January.

The suggested rule about disclosing legislative-related ad spending comes after the Consumer Healthcare Products Association spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on radio ads in each of the 2011 and 2012 session urging Kentuckians to call lawmakers to oppose bills aimed at requiring prescriptions for cold medicines containing pseudo ephedrine. That has become a key ingredient in methamphetamine.

John Schaaf, general counsel for the Legislative Ethics Commission, said the commission is trying to keep up with the changing landscape of lobbying.

“If you run an ad to express support or opposition to legislation that’s pending and its paid for by a business or association that lobbies, then it would be considered a form of lobbying and it would have to be reported,” Schaaf told Pure Politics in a phone interview. “That appears to be a new avenue for lobbying — spending money to generate a public response.”

The commission also recommends:

  • Barring employers of lobbyists and political action committees from contributing to the campaigns of legislators or legislative candidates during a regular General Assembly session. And the rules would give legislators and candidates 30 days after an improper contribution is reported to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance to return the donation.

  • Imposing a “no cup of coffee” rule, in which lawmakers couldn’t take any food or drinks paid for by lobbyists or their employers. That would require repealing the rule allowing lobbyists or employers to spend up to $100 a year on food or drink for lawmakers. Under the recommendation, lobbyists and employers could still sponsor events attended by legislators or candidates that includes food and drink that could be shared by all attendees.
  • Allowing the commission to dismiss a complaint without prejudice if the complaint becomes public or the person bringing the complaint talks publicly about it. This is meant to address complaints filed in amid election campaigns, which became an issue in 2011 for instance.

_Correction: An earlier draft of this post incorrectly listed the title of John Schaaf. He is the general counsel of the commission. And the post has been updated to reflect that under the recommended “no cup of coffee rule,” organizations could still sponsor events that includes food and drink. _

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