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Lobbyist disclosure goes unchecked, campaign finance regulator says

Posted by: Updated: February 14, 2012 - 5:22 PM

The state's top regulator of lobbyists and campaign spending said today that the public is being kept in the dark about the full picture of influence peddling at the State Capitol because of staff shortages in his office.

The state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board knows some of the 1,450 registered lobbyists are not complying with disclosure laws, but the board doesn't have staff to catch them because they have to focus on other priorities, according to Gary Goldsmith, executive director of the board.

Goldsmith gave his office's biennial report to the board that included a call for more staff to carry out the "type of disclosure and enforcement the people of Minnesota need and expect."  The office is charged with regulating lobbyists, campaign fundraising and spending as well as overseeing dislcosure of economic interests of 2,200 public officials across Minnesota.

Goldsmith said his office knows of groups that hire lobbyists that do not appear to be disclosing the underlying source of their funds, which is required by law. There are also discrepencies on lobbying reports that point to potential violations, but the board staff does not have time to review them because they must focus on more pressing campaign finance regulation, he said.

"There are elements of the lobbyist program that are not looked at," Goldsmith said. "There are compliance issues that we know of in the lobbyist program that we simply can not review and enforce because we don't have staff to do it."

His office has 7.6 full-time equivalent employees and needs nine, he said. Goldsmith has requested additional staff in the past, but that hasn't gone anywhere in the Legislature.

In other business, Goldsmith said the Dayton administration has indicated that two new board members would be joining the six-member board soon. He said they are undergoing background checks, but he did not know their identities.

Two appointees by Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- Hilda Bettermann and David Swenson -- will be rotating off the board. Betterman said the eight years on the board has been gratifying work, but "it hasn't always been fun." She said carrying out the board's mission is tough work.

"We're criticized by lots of people for being either too harsh, overreaching on the law or not reaching far enough," Bettermann said.

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