TOPEKA — Rep. Aaron Coleman includes among his tools of the trade at the Capitol a small, black $112 body camera that dangles from a neck lanyard.
The freshman House member from Kansas City, Kansas, is convinced state law ought to amended to require all lobbyists working the statehouse to wear a comparable police-type camera to record their conversations with legislators. The video files would be submitted on the first day of each month to the office of the Kansas secretary of state, who is responsible for registering lobbyists.
The Democrat’s bill would mandate these recordings be classified as records available to the public under the Kansas Open Records Act. The legislation would apply to more than 500 lobbyists working in Kansas — everyone from Leslie Anderson of the Kansas Association of Area Agencies on Aging to Brad Zenz of QMA LLC.
“We have lobbyists who are paid for by special interests and corporations and other groups,” Coleman said. “Being the citizens of Kansas, we want to know what these lobbyists are saying to legislators when they’re pushing their agenda.”
Here’s the other shoe dropping: House Bill 2235 would forbid registered Kansas lobbyists from offering, paying, giving or making available to a candidate or member of the Legislature any service, hospitality, favor, discount, gratuity, loan, gift or opportunity. Ouch. No more food and drink? No more tickets to college or professional sports events?
Of course, the 125 representatives and 40 senators aren’t going to go hungry. Coleman‘s bill hasn’t gained traction since introduced in February, but he said a handful of people in the Capitol had told him the concept had merit.
His initiative was met with skepticism by legislators and lobbyists who participated in an unscientific sampling of opinion. Several pointed to impracticality of hundreds of people moving around the statehouse with cameras clicking on and off. Others said lobbyists testifying before House and Senate committees were already captured on video streamed and archived on YouTube.
“Is this a joke?” inquired Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Democrat from Wichita. “This would be hard to implement. I don’t see how it can work. And, I can’t be bought for a dinner or a ticket to a game.”
Republican Sen. Molly Baumgardner, the Louisburg chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said viewers of her conversations with lobbyists would hear the same two questions about pending bills.
“If you support it, why?” she said. “What do the opponents say?”
She said investment in new camera technology and upgraded internet connections at the Capitol due to COVID-19 improved the opportunity for Kansans to observe the political process in real time. It also established links enabling lobbyists and other people to testify on bills pending before legislative committees.
“It has opened up the business of the state to people that really have not had access,” Baumgardner said.
Bob Corkins is the registered lobbyist and chief executive officer of Frontier Peace Advisors, an association offering libertarian perspectives on K-12 education, asset forfeitures to government, legal use of marijuana and other issues related to personal liberty. The most effective lobbying is built on personal relationships with legislators, he said.
“You want to have candid conversations about liberty, freedom, the role of government,” Corkins said. “That’s difficult to have if you can’t have a conversation with anybody.”
Jessica Lucas, who has clients ranging from the Clean Energy Business Council to the Kansans for Fair Play, said body cameras would be intrusive. She said the central goal of a lobbyist was to educate legislators on issues, but a majority of those conversations wouldn’t be worthy of memorialization.
“It would probably have a chilling effect,” said Sean Gatewood, a former Kansas House member who works with the Kansas Alliance for Healthy Kansans and the Kansas Advocates Network.