Bills enhance the role of the PIC, provide a needed funding source

This editorial was published in the Monday, April 28 edition of The News Journal

 

By Dr. Wilma Mishoe

On behalf of all the members of Delaware’s Public Integrity Commission, I want to thank the group of lawmakers in our General Assembly who, in collaboration with the Commission, recently introduced a package of legislation designed to improve and expand our agency’s ability to ensure transparency and public accountability in our government.

These bills will streamline and modernize the collection and distribution of the thousands of statutorily mandated financial and lobbying disclosure documents handled by our staff each year. Our goal is to provide the public with the most up-to-date and transparent disclosure records to which they are entitled by law, and we appreciate any help in making that process easier.

The Commission also appreciates efforts to help our agency operate with more financial independence and support the work of our small, dedicated staff with funds generated specifically for that purpose. This includes a proposal to create a registration fee for paid, professional lobbyists, which would be used to cover the costs associated with our statutory duty to oversee political lobbying activity in our state.

Numerous state boards, commissions and committees responsible for regulating various professions charge similar licensing and registration fees to those they are tasked with overseeing. These entities use the income from those fees to ensure the practitioners in those particular fields adhere to common standards and are held accountable when they fail to meet to those standards.

For example, the state Board of Nursing ensures that those who practice nursing in Delaware are doing so in accordance with accepted standards, and protects good nurses from any harm to their reputations caused by those who may not be following the rules. To offset the costs of performing this work, the Board of Nursing charges licensing fees to the nurses it regulates.

At the Public Integrity Commission, one of our jobs is to ensure that registered political lobbyists follow the rules spelled out in state law related to gifts and expenditures. Those rules exist to guarantee the citizens of Delaware know which individuals, groups and businesses are attempting to influence the political process. Greater transparency leads to greater accountability. 

The fees charged by the Board of Nursing don’t stop people from becoming licensed nurses in Delaware, and charging professional, paid lobbyists a fee to offset the costs incurred by the Public Integrity Commission will not stop people from registering with our agency for the purpose of acting as lobbyists.  For those lobbyists not receiving payment for their services, there would be no change to the current registration process.

Agencies similar to the Commission in 41 other states currently charge fees to registered lobbyists that are used to fund their operations. Courts in several states have ruled that fees to support the regulation of political lobbying are permissible, and they do not represent a barrier to free discourse in the halls of government.

In his recent report on the status of campaign finance and public disclosure laws in Delaware, retired state Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Veasey recommended strengthening the Public Integrity Commission. The Commission shares Chief Justice Veasey’s view, and we believe that the measures introduced in the General Assembly will help our agency advance our goal of greater accountability through greater public awareness and the opportunity for greater scrutiny.

More public interest translates to a larger appetite for relevant, up-to-date documentation. It also means more people will have the ability to speak up and bring concerns to the commission for review. Without additional financial resources, the Commission’s ability to satisfy those growing public needs will be diminished.

The members of the commission are encouraged by the proposals from the General Assembly, and we’re hopeful that lawmakers will capitalize on these opportunities to enhance transparency and broaden accountability in our political system.

 

Dr. Wilma Mishoe chairs the seven-member Delaware Public Integrity Commission, which has jurisdiction over lobbyists, public officers, candidates for elected office and state executive branch employees.