Carol Anne Costa: Lobby Hobby – Gorbea Crafts Lobby Laws That Stick

Thursday, June 04, 2015


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Nellie Gorbea

A hobby? Well, not so much. It’s more like a scrapbooking blood sport in our little Rhody. But, it is Secretary of State,  Nellie Gorbea who is spearheading a lobby reform legislative package which is long overdue. It accomplishes sweeping reforms in reporting and brings a comprehensive approach to oversight. How it will be received under the dome is wholly mysterious at this juncture, as the bill is winding its way through the process. After a hearing in House Judiciary, it is expected to be heard in Senate Judiciary soon.  Let us hope this bill makes its way to the floor. It deserves debate, discussion and ultimately a vote, this session.

In a time where every bill is poked, prodded and tested for any link to jobs and the economy, lobby reform is one, that upon its passage will certainly indicate our state's readiness to pivot to ethical, open, and transparent governing. Reforms embodied in a bill which give the Secretary of State improvements that will stick like hot glue to parchment paper, encased in a strong and sturdy framework. Ahh, isn't that a pretty picture?   

Subpoenas, You Say?

Gorbea’s legislative package H-6178 simplifies and clarifies the rules governing lobbying, and maximizes transparency. It creates a more user friendly registration and reporting system, as well as strengthens the investigation and enforcement powers of the Rhode Island Secretary of State. The act would take effect on January 1, 2016, none too soon. This bill represents a total overhaul of lobbying rules and regulations. But more, it has the power of administrative subpoenas and gives the Secretary of State the tools to investigate and question problems in order to get answers the public so desperately craves. It also strengthens penalties for offenders. These are no small reforms and are more than sprinkles of glitter to make the past look better without substantive change. You know... lipstick on a pig laws. These new moves represent comprehensive modifications to a seemingly stagnant law. It’s about time, for we are running out of Cover Girl.      

So what’s the push pack; I can hear it now, “We trust Nellie...but, oh no, what if a future Secretary of State gets overzealous blah blah blah?” These reforms are designed to give tools to streamline, consolidate and better serve the charge of oversight for all Secretaries of State. I am thinking of a Streisand song, “Gee, how zealous can you get?” I feel Rhode Islanders welcome the possibility of reform and may even smile gleefully at the thought of a zealous reformer. After all, decades of merely scratching the surface for answers is getting as faded as old crumbly newsprint. Gorbea’s empowerment of administrative subpoenas in this package has particular appeal, as it gives the power to question and investigate.  And, I can see many of you right now rolling your eyes proclaiming, “Sure… a day late and 75 million dollars short.” Guess what? We can continue to gripe or we can get behind this package for the future of our state. I say give Nellie the tools and perhaps it will be a floodgate to ethics reform. Stop gasping it could happen. That would be the bonus for sure. Picture it, like a nesting doll; inside lobby reform, surprise-we find the courage to pass ethics reform. I think I like crafting!

Do Your Job

Recent chapters in our state’s history have brought Rhode Island to a dark place where trust in government is eroding at a feverish pace, at the same time moving toward reforms in lobbying and ethics are crawling as slow and creepy as a slimy slug, leaving a trail of apathy, disgust and suspicion across the pages of our own RI scrapbook. The trail which is visible to businesses, corporations and the citizenry has a direct, decided and negative impact on the state's economy, as it smears our history and clouds our present. Listen up scrappers! It is up to us to clean up our clippings and shine up our stencils and get the scrapbook back in shape. After all it is what people, tourists, investors and businesses see first. It is our very own Lobby Hobby!

With the passage of H-6178 the Secretary of State and General Assembly will lead on lobby reform. I know that will be well received, as folks look to invest in our state as opposed to run for the hills. Lobby reform will be a positive step toward cleaning things up and making our scrapbook look new, refreshed and much better for all of us. Make no mistake; it is legislation that is inextricably linked to jobs and the economy. And to the lobbyists, I say, “do your job… and your reporting.”  Rhode Island deserves nothing less.  

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Carol Anne Costa is a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently the Executive Director of the Warren Housing Authority. Her work has been published in several local outlets including GoLocal, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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