Lobbyists complain but do pay fees

By Patrick Howe

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- Despite a bit of confusion and more than a few complaints, lobbyists and the organizations that hire them have already paid more than $190,000 in newly demanded registration fees, according to the state's Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.

As part of last session's push to balance the state budget, lobbyists and "principals" -- groups that employ lobbyists -- were each required to pay a $50 registration fee for both the 2003 and 2004 sessions.

The fee was imposed retroactively, covering any lobbyists that worked during the 2003 session.


Jeanne Olson, executive director of the board, said during a board meeting Wednesday that 61 lobbyists and 108 principals have failed so far to pay the fee for 2003. That's a small percentage of the more than 3,000 lobbyists in the state and more than 1,000 principals.

The board has sent the tardy payers certified letters warning they could face stiff fines and late filing fees, though Olson said the board isn't imposing those penalties just yet.

"People are very confused," she said. "We are getting calls every day saying 'I didn't know about that."'

It's the retroactive nature of the fee that has some lobbyists unhappy.

David Markle has been registered as a lobbyist for the Artists, Composers and Authors Caucus since the 1970s, though he said he didn't actually do any lobbying in the last session.

He has tried to make his resignation as a lobbyist retroactive to before the fee was imposed, and asked the board to refund the $100 in fees he's already paid on behalf of himself and his organization. The board turned him down.

"I thought it was a violation of the First Amendment to require people to pay money to the state in order to express opinions to their representatives," he said.

So far, the board is holding back from using public embarrassment to try to collect the fees. The board delayed until at least next month a decision on whether to publish on the board's Web site the names of lobbyists and principals who have not paid the fees.


Minnesota isn't unique in charging lobbyists fees. A study by the board found 37 other states that do the same, though many charge nominal amounts ranging from $5 to $20.

Rep. Jim Davnie, a Democrat from Minneapolis, said he's concerned that the law has ensnared citizen lobbyists along with those who work for large organizations.

"What we want is citizens to be actively involved in the legislative process," he said. "I fear that charging citizen lobbyists a registration fee puts up a hurdle for citizen involvement."

The $50 fees are set to end after the 2004 legislative session unless they're extended.

The board is now conducting a study on the fairest way to impose the lobbying fees as well as new fees on political committees, political funds, principal campaign committees, and political party units. That broader policy would begin in 2005.

What To Read Next
Get Local