Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Focus on Family zeroes in on Wyoming

Expensive lobbying effort launched

SJ 2 proposes an amendment to the Wyoming Constitution that would recognize marriages only between a man and a woman.
Marriage already is defined in Wyoming law as between a man and a woman, so this proposed amendment is aimed at gay marriages recognized in other states.
One might wonder how huge a problem this is in Wyoming, especially compared to issues such as 100,000 residents with no health insurance, a crippling lack of quality child care, or permanently disabled workers whose “benefits” leave them in poverty.
But apparently it’s a big problem, judging by the lobbying effort behind SJ 2. For the past week, residents in the five state senate districts whose senators comprise the Senate Education Committee have received calls from a calling center in the Midwest called “Advantage Research.”
The caller says that he or she has “an important message about marriage in Wyoming.” The caller claims that most people in Wyoming favor marriage as only between a man and a woman, and that a bill to give citizens a chance to vote on this concept has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.
The script goes on to warn the recipient of the call that if the bill does not get out of committee, the chance for the people to vote on the issue will be lost. The caller then informs the recipient of the call that his or her senator is on this committee, and offers to patch the recipient through to the senator’s office to urge a “yes” vote.
This is interesting since Wyoming legislators do not have offices; apparently the call is patched through either to the Legislative Service Office or to the voter hotline.
Sarah Gorin, past chair of the Equality State Policy Center, received two calls about an hour apart, and asked each caller who was paying for the calling. On both occasions she was informed that the calling was financed by Focus on the Family Action, the lobbying arm of Focus on the Family, based in Colorado Springs.

Need for disclosure

Everyone has the right to lobby. The unfortunate aspect about what obviously is an expensive lobbying effort on SJ2 is that under Wyoming’s weak lobbyist reporting law, Wyoming people will not find out how much it cost because Focus on the Family Action is not required to report it.
Wyoming’s current law requires reporting only of gifts to legislators, the cost of receptions, and “advertising” intended to influence legislation, whatever that means. Any other lobbying expenses, including the resources needed to keep lobbyists chatting in legislators’ ears 24/7 in Cheyenne and between sessions, is invisible. It’s high time to adopt legislation that requires complete reporting of lobbyists’ expenditures.