SALT LAKE CITY — Lobbyists at Utah’s Capitol became marked people Friday, as a new law went into effect requiring them to wear a badge bearing their name and the word “lobbyist” as they try to influence public officials.
They also must disclose for whom they’re working before advocating in person or by phone or email.
Lawmakers say the requirements will let them know whomwho they’re dealing with. Lobbyists counter that the badges are unnecessary because they already disclose whomwho they work for.
Fourteen other states require lobbyists to wear badges, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. About half a dozen other states offer lobbyist badges but don’t require them to be displayed.
The Utah lieutenant governor’s office, where lobbyists must register, expects to hand out about 100 badges during the next few months to be worn at a handful of meetings before the next legislative session in January.
As their licenses are renewed at the end of the year, all 500 registered lobbyists in the state will have to pick up new badges, which resemble credentials issued to reporters and staff members.
Utah’s law specifies how large the font must be on the badges and requires lobbyists to wear it in plain view. However, there’s no penalty for lobbyists who fail to wear a badge or disclose whomwho they’re working for.
Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, pushed for the badges.
“This is especially important for newly elected legislators who usually do not know the lobbyist and how many clients that person may have and who the lobbyist is representing in that particular conversation,” Harper said in an email.
Rep. Craig Hall, a West Valley City Republican who co-sponsored the new law, said the requirements will be helpful during the legislative session, “when there are possibly 1,000 people and you don’t know who is who.”
He agreed with Harper that new lawmakers in particular will benefit from the extra disclosure.
“I remember coming in two years ago for the first time and I didn’t really know who all the players were,” Hall said. “I didn’t know if a person in the hallway was just a regular citizen trying to talk to his or her legislator about a certain issue or whether they were a full-time lobbyist.”
Jean Hill, who represents the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said she has no problem with disclosing whomwho she works for.
“I think that’s important for the public to know who’s talking, and important for legislators to know who’s talking,” she said. “It lets those listening kind of make some initial determinations about our credibility.”
But she doesn’t think the badges will be that helpful.
“Having a badge that says ‘I’m a lobbyist’ doesn’t tell you anything,” she said, adding that the tags might be more valuable if they also listed the organization a lobbyist represents.
Frank Pignanelli, who’s been a lobbyist for the past 17 years after spending a decade as a Utah lawmaker, said wearing badges is irritating and unnecessary.
Pignanelli, whose firm represents dozens of clients, including Google and Overstock.com, said lobbyists play an important role in democracy and he’s proud to be one.
“The first five seconds, you tell a legislator, even if you know the legislator well, ‘I’m here on behalf of X,’” he said. “If you don’t, it’s very bad lobbying.”
If legislators aren’t sure who they’re talking to, they should just ask, he said.
“I just think it’s silly and it’s not necessary and it smacks of a nanny state,” Pignanelli said. “Our forefathers didn’t cross the plains so we can stick badges on lobbyists.”