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Corruption Chronicles

Banning Lobbyists From The Floor

Concerned that lobbyists are actually participating in legislative sessions through their hidden access to lawmakers has led several states to ban instant electronic computer messages during sessions.

Two states – Colorado and West Virginia – already ban text messages during legislative sessions, with Colorado prohibiting them in the House and Senate chambers and West Virginia forbidding House members from receiving electronic messages during sessions on any pending legislation.

Dozens of other states have restricted the use of electronic devices, such as pagers and cell phones, in legislatures to avoid possible ethical implications but that leaves out one of modern technologies’ most popular new methods; instant text messaging on a computer.

This week Maine’s House of Representatives proposed a law to ban text messaging and legislators say it will prevent abuse of “secret, instant communications” by lobbyists who closely monitor actions by legislators in session. The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Representative Herbert Adams, says it is a serious problem that will only get worst.

Several Maine legislators recall numerous occasions last year in which lobbyists sent messages to lawmakers during official proceedings. During one House bill debate, lobbyists used their computers to participate in debates and one representative said “they were e-mailing members of the House, helping devise speeches and questions.”

If the new restriction becomes law, Maine would be at the national forefront of such reforms. Perhaps other states will follow its example since, these days, messages travel just as fast on a computer as a phone.


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