Rep. Morgan Carroll

Morgan Carroll quickly gained a reputation with both legislators and lobbyists when she won election to the Colorado House. Fighting for health care reform left her with a passion for lobbying ethics rules, resulting in her recent aggressive push for new legislation and for an audit of current lobbying records.

Rep. Carroll agreed to answer some questions from Progressive States last week about her legislative success and her pendint audit request.

Progressive States: You just passed legislation shining a light on lobbying activities. What were the biggest problems with lobbying disclosure in Colorado? How did your bill address these issues?

Rep. Morgan Carroll: Colorado's disclosure problems were largely that it the identity of lobbyists clients was not always transparent (due to ambiguity in prior definitions). Further because not every reported lobbying activity by bill #, it was impossible to cross-reference it as a data-searchable field to the public. Additionally prior law did not require a lobbyist to disclose the position their client(s) were having them advocate (for, against, or monitoring) legislation. Furthermore, there was no requirement that lobbyists disclose any direct financial relationships. Colorado also has no cooling off period for elected officials or appointed department heads before becoming lobbyists (revolving door issue).

Colorado has the 4th highest saturation of lobbyist to lawmaker and our reliance and dependence on lobbyists has increased with the passage of our terms limits. More institutional issue specialty has passed from the expertise of elected officials and into the hands of lobbyists.

Passage of my bill means that the identity of everyone lobbyist work for will be public knowledge; that the lobbying history by every lobbyist and their client on every bill number will be available to the public and the press; that the advocacy position of their clients (to the extent they have one) will be known to the public and any direct financial relationships have an independent reporting requirement in order to detect and enforce ethics rules on conflict of interest. (The cooling off period was pulled off my bill by hostile amendment.)

Bottom line is any member of the public will be able to go online, click on a bill number, and pull up the entire lobbying history, and financial interests in the legislation.

Progressive States: How much of an uphill battle was it? What were the biggest roadblocks?

Rep. Carroll: This was a huge uphill battle. I introduced this legislation before the Abramoff and other lobbying scandals broke and no one saw the need for it because "we already know who is lobbying what down here." The largest failure was for many electeds to realize that this was not about them or even about lobbyists but about the public's right to know and hold everyone accountable.

The main resistance was from lawmakers themselves who either felt this was (1) insulting them; (2) insulting lobbyists; or (3) admitting we are crooks too easily influenced by lobbyists. Lawmakers were also afraid that if they took on lobbyists that lobbyists might retaliate in the form of either (a) killing their bills; or (b) withholding campaign contributions.

The resistance from lobbyists was largely private and behind the scenes. No lobbyist actively, publicly lobbied against the bill, but many expressed "their concerns" with the bill in private conversations "unofficially" to other lawmakers. They fed quotes to the press indicating the reforms were unnecessary. They opposed the measure more through a "whisper campaign" than through direct measures.

Progressive States: You've earned yourself quite the reputation in Colorado for standing up to lobbyists, not just with this bill, but in general. Where does your passion for the issue come from?

Rep. Carroll: They come from my passion for good process in good government and my experience as a freshman legislator:

(1) having every effort for healthcare and insurance reform thwarted by insurance lobbyists;

(2) fighting 250 lobbyists opposing my legislation to allow an injured worker to choose their own physician in workers comp (instead of the insurance industry);

(3) finding the practice of summoning elected officials from the floor during votes, amendments and debates, arrogant, distracting and disturbing (I am 1 out 100 who has a policy of refusing to leave the floor during votes to talk to lobbyists). I have watched people miss votes, vote the wrong way or be completely unaware of how floor amendments changed legislation.

My passion comes from watching consumers and the public get screwed because industry lobbyists have more time, money, clout and power than elected officials under the dome.

In Colorado (maybe elsewhere too), lobbyists often write bills, advocate bills, testify on bills, provide "research" on legislation, help with constituent work, fund campaigns, fund "office accounts, provide lawmakers with entertainment, decide endorsements, awards and can decide the fate of public policy. That is too much power to have anything other than total transparency.

Progressive States: You've also called for an audit of lobbyists. What's the story there?

Rep. Carroll: Colorado received a near-failing grade from the Center for Public Integrity for our lobbying laws. We lost points because of the lacking disclosure laws, lacking a cooling off period and for lax enforcement.

I asked for an audit on compliance with current lobbying laws because the has never been an audit in the history of Colorado for lobbyist compliance. That's too long. Furthermore, we had not enforced penalties for non-compliance in over 5 years. I also know that legislative reforms are only as good as their enforcement and ours is graded as failing. I didn't just want to pass a bill. I wanted to see meaningful reforms.

Progressive States: What legislation can we look forward to next year?

Rep. Carroll: Cooling Off Period: I will be running a cooling off period for high level department heads and elected officials before becoming lobbyists.

Reforming State Contracting Practices: I will also require lobbyist-style disclosures for companies wining-and-dining in pursuit of state contracts to see if there is any connection between who spends money courting decision-makers and if there is a correlation to those who land state contracts. We also need a database tracking past performance of prior vendors and best value contracting.

Insurance (Healthcare) Reforms: Addressing patient choice in medical care, rate-setting practices for insurance companies in Colorado, prompt payment of medical bills, making the insurance commissioner an elected position, shoring up anti-trust laws in medical mergers, transparency in healthcare contracts.

Whistleblower Protection for Healthcare Workers reporting patient safety problems.