The comment probably won’t be reported in news accounts about the 2016 legislative session, but it will reverberate on the walls of the state Capitol in Salem, as it should.
Senator Alan Bates, D-Ashland, began a hearing today by noting that “four or five” unnamed lobbyists had intentionally misled or lied to him in an attempt to kill a bill in the short 35-day session. Bates said it was the first time in 16 years in office he had encountered that kind of unprincipled lobbying and vowed not to listen anymore to at least two of the lobbyists.
Here’s Bates’ entire statement:
"Something has happened during this short session that in my 16+ years that I've never seen before, and I've been through maybe 20 sessions, counting special sessions. Members of the lobby have been coming to us at the very end of the time a bill should be discussed trying to sow confusion, there have been half-truths, sometimes outright lies trying to kill a bill. I'm very disappointed in lobby members who have done this, and I've got a list of four or five of you out there. This is disingenuous.
"This building runs on integrity, and if you can't have any integrity and try to come in and kill bills that way, the system won't work well and, in fact, ultimately, you won't be listened to anymore. There are two lobbyists out here that I'm going to have a conversation with after this session that I will not listen to anymore. They've lied to me on several occasions and other members have been telling me the same thing in other committees. So this practice of coming at the last minute, trying to kill a bill by being disingenuous, by lying about the bill, by trying to confuse people is something that we would like to see stop – at least I would… .
"If you think you can continue to do this, I don't believe you're going to be successful and I'm very disappointed in the lobby for having done this. And those of you out there who have done this, know who I'm talking to you. And those of you who have been honest and straightforward with us, I hope you understand I am not talking to you."
Oregon’s professional lobby corps prides itself on a longstanding code of ethics that includes telling the truth. Legislators are no strangers to bare-knuckled advocacy and passionate pleas, but lying is supposed to be out of bounds. Veteran Oregon lobbyists are usually the umpires who throw the flag when a colleague violates that principle.
Lobbyists, like everyone else, can make mistakes or cite incorrect data. In Oregon, they have an obligation to correct errors and acknowledge misstatements. It can be awkward and even embarrassing, but that is a small price to pay to keep Oregon’s legislative discourse as civil, fair and fact-based as possible.
There always have been lobbyists who treaded the edges of this rule, and there has been a long line of lawmakers who have called them on it. Bates is the latest, but he is not the first, nor will be be the last. His punishment is the correct one – deny access to lobbyists who fudge the truth. Without access to key legislators, a lobbyist is useless.
The main quality lobbyists should advertise is their integrity. Lawmakers will listen to lobbyists they trust, even they if disagree with them.
When lobbyists feel pressure to pass or kill legislation that causes them to dissemble, it is time for them to take a time out or look for a new line of work. Passing legislation is hard enough and sufficiently frustrating without the burden of dealing with half-truths or outright lies.