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Threatened With Fee Increase, Lobbyists Go To Work

Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration is taking another run at raising the fee for lobbyist registrations.

A state panel will consider hiking the lobbyist registration fee from $200 to $300.

Many lobbyists have balked at the prospect of another increase to the registration fee. It was last raised in 2011 from $100.

Some say the proposed increases would violate rights of free speech and petition under the state and U.S. constitutions. Others say it will dramatically reduce compliance with the state law requiring lobbyists to register with the Department of State once they hit quarterly spending thresholds of $2,500. Smaller lobbying outfits and non-profits say a higher flat fee would put them at a particular disadvantage.  

The governor’s administration has been trying to hike the $200 lobbyist registration fee for more than a year. The Department of State most recently tried to jack the fee to $400. Last summer, the agency proposed a $700 registration fee.

Several lobbyists and state lawmakers have written to the state panel reviewing the fee change, calling on the DOS to defend a higher price tag.  

“Is this increase in fees, far in excess of the inflation rate, justified?” wrote Brian Barno with the Broadband Cable Association in August. “Are there economies of scale that can be achieved by more effective management rather than raising the fee?”

Drew Crompton, chief counsel to Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, skewered the agency’s online lobbyist directory and searchable database of lobbying reports.

“I cannot emphasize enough the inept workmanship that has occurred over the years,” Crompton wrote in 2013.

Government reform activists say graduating the fee should be discussed before any increase.

“One size doesn’t cover all lobbyists. The fee really needs to be adjusted or weighted to reflect a lobbyist’s client base,” said Eric Epstein with Rock the Capital. “I think there’s a big difference between people advocating for the homeless and people advocating for the pharmaceutical industry.”