BOSTON (AP) - The office of Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin has been ordered to cover more than $100,000 in legal fees accrued by lobbyists who challenged his interpretation of the state's revamped ethics laws.
Galvin overstepped his authority by trying to force lobbyists to report every time they spoke to a legislator or state official, even chance meetings, according to a judge's decision issued last week.
The lobbyists represented a variety of business interests as well as a government watchdog organization that advocates for stricter lobbying rules.
Plaintiff Robert Gibbons, a health industry lobbyist, told The Boston Globe he might have 45 or 50 conversations a day with legislators and cannot remember them all, let alone report them to Galvin's office.
"The judge agreed it was ridiculous on its face," Gibbons said.
Galvin says he's disappointed with the decision and may appeal.
Galvin said he was particularly concerned that lobbyists, who spent almost $120 million to influence state policy last year, do not need to disclose the names of lawmakers and officials they are lobbying on contracts, bills or regulations. He said he does not want lobbyists to disclose casual conversations, only those that pertain to public policy.
"My goal is to connect these massive amounts of money that are being spent to influence public policy to the actual policymakers who are the object of this effort," Galvin said. "What is it that they are pursuing from these policymakers?"
Galvin argued that the lobbying law requires lobbyists to report their "direct business associations" with public officials.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders rejected his interpretation. "To put it bluntly, this argument makes absolutely no sense," she wrote. Galvin's case was based on a "mangled use of the English language," she said.
Information from: The Boston Globe, http://www.bostonglobe.com