Meaningful disclosure

Perhaps the House’s rejoinder to Gov. Jesse Ventura should be titled, “We ain’t got time to disclose.”

State representatives passed a bill Wednesday requiring Ventura and the state’s other constitutional officers to reveal more information about their outside income than state law currently requires. Yet lawmakers saw no reason to subject themselves to the same requirements.

The bill ostensibly intends to prevent conflicts of interest among the state officials who sit on the State Board of Investment. The board controls $53 billion in state pension money and includes the governor, state auditor, secretary of state, attorney general and state treasurer. This goal, taken by itself, is a laudable step toward protecting Minnesota from an Enron-type debacle.

Yet the fact remains that XFL lobbyists are far less numerous at the Capitol than advocates for lawyers, doctors, teachers, farmers, insurance companies and others who find many sympathetic members of their industries sitting in the Legislature. And while the constitutional officers play a role in investing the state’s pension fund, the legislative branch controls the entire state’s purse strings and allows more access points for interests seeking to slip a few favorable words into a bill.

It is, of course, true that Minnesota’s citizen-legislators are paid for part-time work and often keep outside jobs, including some that require them by law to keep client names confidential. But carving out reasonable exceptions to the disclosure law is well within the Legislature’s expertise and is better policy than allowing clients’ privacy rights to also keep a lawmaker’s special interest and industry-group income secret.

Money provides favored groups, companies and individuals with extensive access to legislators, while the average citizen is usually confined to a letter that might never even reach a representative’s desk. While these groups are entitled to promote their interests, the policies their influence shapes affect all Minnesotans. The state’s voters are entitled to know, therefore, what voices have their representatives’ attention. (See Daily editorial, Jan. 31.)

The House’s refusal to live under the rules it would set for the state’s executive officials suggests yet another noble goal is being used as a political tool. The House should leave the election-year gamesmanship on the XFL field and pass a comprehensive income-disclosure bill.