Grove's Oversight Committee highlights problems with Pa.'s lobbying laws

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Seth Grove, R-York, returns to his seat serving the 196 District in the PA House of Representatives, after running unopposed, Tuesday, November 6, 2018. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

State Rep. Seth Grove said Wednesday that his committee's first report showed lobbying groups skew spending reporting and that state oversight wasn't effective at keeping tabs on noncompliance with state law.

Grove's remarks followed the state House Government Oversight Committee's unanimous vote on Wednesday, Oct. 30, to release its report on the state's Lobbying Disclosure Law. It was the first report since the committee was formed earlier this year and Grove was named its chairman.

"There's obviously a lot of under-the-radar (spending) that's not being publicly disclosed like the law has intended," said Grove, R-Dover Township. "I always say that if you're interested in who's spending the money and who it is being spent on, we don't know either."

More:Rep. Grove named chairman of new House Oversight Committee

The committee's report detailed a variety of findings, most of which leave the public in the dark about what lobbyists actually spend to influence the state's politics, the report states.

Most notably, Grove said, lobbying disclosure reports fail to accurately depict spending because quarterly reporting is unclear and audits conducted to ensure enforcement with the law are inefficient.

The committee's report suggested that to combat inaccurate lobbying expenditures reports, lobbyists themselves should be required to report meals, gifts and other expenditures. Under state law, lobbying companies are in charge of filing disclosures.

This is important, the committee contended, because entities that employ lobbyists are only required to report the dollar amounts of expenditures more than $3,000, giving them the ability to divide larger expenditures up among multiple lobbyists to portray smaller spending amounts.

The issues with auditing partially stem from the fact that the Department of State is only required by law to audit 3% of lobbying disclosures annually.

The committee suggested the department should take a risk-based approach to auditing that would focus on lobbyists with a poor track record. This would put a better use of the department's limited resources, the report contended.

The committee also recommended ending the practice of making most of these audit reports confidential, as the state Ethics Commission is typically unable to enforce noncompliance without such reports.

Finally, the report suggested eliminating the "unfair" $300 lobbying registration fee and instead using money raised through the state's sales, use and hotel occupancy tax to fund the Department of State's lobbying disclosure duties.

The committee report will now be sent to the governor's office, standing committees and lawmakers for review.

Grove said he doesn't anticipate sponsoring related legislation, but he would still have input as future bills would likely go through the State Government Committee, of which he is a member.

House Republican and Democratic leadership called for the committee to undertake the report in May, and those leaders and other lawmakers will likely be interested in taking up legislation to address the committee's findings, he added.

"I'm certain somebody will pick this up," Grove said. "If nobody else is interested, then I might."

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.