Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Who's working for whom?

As is so often the case, the Missoula Independent brings a story that we haven't seen elsewhere, namely Gary Marbut's lawsuit against the Montana FWP, attempting to keep that agency from lobbying the state legislature.

Montana Headlines has pointed out before that the playing field in the lobbying business in Montana is already heavily weighted toward government employees and agencies, and that the recent initiative preventing legislators from becoming lobbyists for two years will only tilt things further in that direction.

Marbut's case, as George Ochenski documents, hinges on a state law that seems to prohibit such lobbying. And although he didn't get a restraining order on the FWP, his "claim is still in the game," since the initial District Court ruling had a favorable flavor to it.

Ochenski points out that local government officials recently packed a Helena hearing room to lobby for a local option sales tax, and wonders out loud how many of them had the approval of their taxpayers to use taxpayer money to lobby for more taxes. Good question.

He furthermore raises a very obvious strategy that some enterprising souls may latch onto in this anti-lobbyist climate. If the legislature doesn't do something to regulate government employees who lobby their employer for favorable policies or more money, a ballot initiative may do it for them.

As with the legislator-lobbyist issue, a ballot initiative isn't generally a formula for well-thought-out law. But given that government employees would swarm all over Helena lobbying against any restrictions originating in the legislature, an initiative may be the only solution.

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