You just have to appreciate a good first step in the right direction, even if there's many miles to go.
That's our feeling about a bill toughening lobbyist disclosure rules that Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law this month. The measure, among other things, increases the penalties for lobbyists who don't report their expenditures on time.
Sponsored and championed by Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County, with bipartisan from former Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-Westmoreland County, it doubles the fine for violating the lobbying disclosure law to $4,000 (from $2,000), increases the penalty for filing disclosures late, and specifies a strict timeline for filing the information.
It's pretty hard not to agree with the goal of this law: Citizens should, as Wolf noted when he signed the bill into law, have the ability to understand who is trying to influence legislation that affects them.
And who's against "penalties that better fit the crime," as Cutler explained this new law enforces.
Yes, but steps in the right direction. But we would be remiss if we did not find some unintended irony in this quote from Wolf: "This legislation addresses a very big concern among Pennsylvania citizens. That concern is that Harrisburg politicians are more interested in the opinions of special interests than in their constituents. That concern I'm afraid is justified."
And this bill changes that how, exactly?
Pennsylvania has as recently as 2015 ranked as low as 45th in "State Integrity."
The metrics measured in the list compiled by U.S. News included lobbying disclosure, which Cutler's bill addressed, but also accountability for all three branches, budgeting process, procurement and more.
Giving taxpayers an opportunity to understand where lobbying firms and lobbyists are focused, and on whose behalf, is a good thing. Disclosure is required of principals, lobbying firms and individual lobbyists.
But what about personal gifts to legislators? Who could possibly think, besides the person giving cash and the person receiving cash, is good and proper? What about trips and travel? They are still allowed, as long as they are reported.
And even in this bill, Cutler wanted higher penalties. But he confessed he took what he could get.
We suppose we appreciate his candor about perfection being the enemy of the good, but there is still more good to do. Much more.
Still, this is a good first step, and we applaud it.