Thursday, June 08, 2000

Blackwell, lobbyists' chief debate lobbying

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell and the president of a Statehouse lobbyists group toned down their war of words over legislative fund-raising and found they agreed on many of the same issues.

        Mr. Blackwell and Thomas Green, president of the Ohio Lobbying Association, traded opinions on the role of lobbyists for about an hour Wednesday at a luncheon in downtown Columbus.

        Mr. Green sent Mr. Blackwell a letter in March criticizing remarks the secretary of state made about lobbyists and their relationships with lawmakers. Mr. Blackwell implied that some lobbyists were improperly trying to gain influence with newer members of the Legislature who will take over leadership during the next two years when the present leaders are forced out by term limits.

        Mr. Green blamed that appearance of coziness on an increasing number of fund-raisers being sponsored by lawmakers. He said as many as seven such events were scheduled on one night.

        Mr. Blackwell said citizens who follow Statehouse politics are bound to be disturbed by images of improper influence from lobbyists and of lawmakers going to great lengths to raise money.

        “Perception in politics is reality. We have a political problem,” he told about 150 lobbyists, lawmakers and elected officials. “There is a problem when lobbyists come to me and say they are being squeezed (for contributions) every day.”

        Mr. Green said lobbyists for the most part provide a voice for companies and trade associations that need representation before the Legislature, rather than representing wealthy special interests. He said their clients are tired of being asked to open their wallets so often.

        Mr. Blackwell has proposed legislation that would prohibit fund-raising during the time the Legislature is conducting voting sessions. Mr. Green said he has told legislative leaders his group would welcome such a timeout.

        “We've voiced these concerns to them. They're concerned about it, too. I don't think they have a solution yet, but I know it bothers them,” he said.


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