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Posted at 6:59 AM ET, 06/22/2010

Virginia gives lobbyists some wiggle room

By Paige Winfield Cunningham

Virginians can bring whatever they want to show-and-tell, but they better not duck out of the room when it's their turn. The state has a particular philosophy when it comes to disclosures by candidates, donors and lobbyists: You can do what you want, but you gotta report it.

But some reporting requirements may still not be clear or comprehensive enough.

On July 1, hundreds of lobbyists in Virginia will file disclosure statements. It's likely that some will spread meal and drink costs among multiple lawmakers to hide how much they're actually spending on a single person. Others might use varying methods to total their lobbying activity, making themselves look either more or less influential.

Maybe the wiggle room is just that: only wiggle room. After all, we still know who's lobbying in Virginia, and for whom.

But when I tried to write a story about who's investing the most in lobbying, the loopholes made it impossible to compare lobbyists.

A bill introduced by then-Del. Sam Nixon (R-Chesterfield) last year didn't survive, but it sought to require lobbyists to list exactly what bills they're pushing or fighting. Lobbyists would also have to be more specific about where they're spending money and how much they're earning.

But right now, there's nothing Chris Frink, the state's lobbyist specialist, can do if he suspects something was fudged. As far as rules go, a lobbyist's signature is as good as gold.

Paige Winfield Cunningham is an investigative reporter and managing editor at Old Dominion Watchdog. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Paige Winfield Cunningham  | June 22, 2010; 6:59 AM ET
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Good piece. Transparency is the key. And it's sad that citizens know more about what lobbyists do than what the police do in their communities. It would be great if you could look at the code of silence that surrounds arrest records in our state.

Posted by: cgp01 | June 25, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

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