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Opinion | The secret to avoiding lobbying laws in Alabama

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Attention, lobbyists: Stop registering as lobbyists.

Look, I know you guys don’t need more money — and Lord knows you don’t need any additional breaks from the people who are supposed to be policing you — but I’m here with a little piece of advice that could provide you with more of both, money and breaks.

Why would I do this? Because if people are going to rig the system, as they obviously have, I want it to blow up in their faces. I want the consequences of what they’ve done to be so obvious and blatant that not even the most dense among us could miss it.

And so, here I am with this piece of advice: Stop registering as lobbyists.

Because what you’re doing isn’t lobbying.

Nope, what you’re doing is “consulting.”

Or “economic development.”

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Or “lawyering.”

But definitely not in any way lobbying.

Don’t take my word on this, though. Take the word of the Alabama Attorney General’s Office and the Alabama Legislature, which last year carved out an awesomely broad exception for “economic development professionals.”

Lawmakers who were against this exception were fairly blunt about what was happening. Rep. Chris England said the difference between “economic developer” and “lobbyist” didn’t exist, but everyone was pretending that a difference existed “because money is involved.” Former Sen. Dick Brewbaker warned that law enforcement would be backing a truck up to the State House in the coming years to arrest people.

But don’t let that worry you.

HB317, as that economic development exception was known, passed easily, and Gov. Kay Ivey high-stepped it on through her office and into law, meaning most of you boys aren’t lobbying anymore. You’re part time economic developin’.

And if you’re not doing that, well, let me introduce you to Option No. 2: Consultant.

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Earlier this year, APR’s Bill Britt caught the Alabama Real Estate Commission once again attempting to circumvent the law against state entities hiring lobbyists with taxpayer dollars. Britt had previously busted AREC in 2017, when it was forking over $450,000 to a lobbyist illegally.

But not so fast, Mr. Britt.

Because the AREC got crafty on its proposed contract for this lobbyist: Instead of hiring a lobbyist, AREC was hiring a “consultant.”

Yeah, sure, the people they hired are registered lobbyists, but you’re not focusing on the right part. Those lobbyist won’t be lobbying. They’ll be consulting. Or something.

To make sure all was on the up and up, a state lawmaker asked the governor’s office if such a hire was legal. An important question considering the governor had, just a year ago, made a big to-do about no one in her executive cabinet hiring lobbyists.

The question was answered by Gov. Kay Ivey’s chief legal counsel, Bryan Taylor — the same man who once conjured out of thin air a reason for a properly passed constitutional amendment to be illegal.

You’ll never guess what happened.

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Once again, out of thin air, Taylor found an exception for the aforementioned lobbyist to be hired to do lobbying: Call it anything other than lobbying.  

Consulting.

Or lawyering.

Or legislation management.

Anything at all. Just don’t use the word lobbying, and you’re golden.  

According to Taylor, who put this opinion on paper in the form of a letter to a lawmaker, it’s a “First Amendment” issue.

For real.

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In Taylor’s opinion, you can’t stop people from having conversations — not in America. Even if one of them is being paid, let’s say, $84,000 to have conversations.

This is so stupid it hurts.

Look, we get it. Life has been tough on lawmakers and lobbyists since those reforms were passed in 2010. No more swanky meals. No more exotic trips. No more golf outings or spa days for the wives. Hell, one poor lawmaker I know had to pay for his own tailored suit recently.

It’s tough out here.

And so, ever since the changes to the laws were made in 2010 — good changes made by Republican lawmakers (that’s right, I said it) — these same people have been trying to figure out ways to wiggle around them.

And what they’ve come up with isn’t the most clever solution. It’s not creative, nor is it deceptive. But it is simple: Don’t be a lobbyist when you’re doing your lobbying.

 

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Written By

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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