Hobgoblins of Harrisburg

Columnist : Albert Paschall

Halloween just isn’t what it used to be.  More people than ever close up their houses and keep the lights off.  As you walk the kids along the street on Halloween night you can tell which neighbors aren’t into the spirit of the season by the eerie echo of blue TV screens that reflect off the windows of their darkened homes.

     And the costumes are all the same.  Used to be an old sheet with holes in it became a ghost and some old rags around the head with a little make-up and a pirate was born.  Now the elaborate packaged costumes inspired by Hollywood promise a repetitive stream of R2-D2’s stumbling around the streets for a couple of hours at dusk on October’s last night.

     But who can blame people for not opening up their houses to strangers?  It’s a dangerous age and you just can’t tell anymore what’s coming through the door.  Parents are busy and kids demand fashion.  A costume off the store shelf is sure to please, easy to use and after all it’s only for a couple of hours anyway. 

Lawmakers in Harrisburg are leading the trend.  Pennsylvania’s new Lobbyist Disclosure Act is a clever costume that came off the shelf and isn’t destined to last too long.  In the meantime the lights are off in most of the state capital for those parading around as special interests.

Disguised lobbying in Harrisburg is a fine art form.  In the state capital nobody waits for All Hallows Eve to masquerade as something else.  Every working day legions of lawyers and consultants go door to door in the capital’s hallways.  They claim some good cause or another to curry favor with the political elite for financial treats or regulatory tricks for special interests all over the state.

The new lobbying law was supposed to unmask the lobbyists so that everyone would know who was reaching into Harrisburg’s grab bag.  But the general assembly isn’t liking what it has found.  Standing at their door every day disguised as a something-its-not is just about every citizen of the state.

     The idea of knowing who the special interests are sounded good, it’s just that the new law turns just about every interest in the state into a special one.  According to reports filed with the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission churches, librarians, podiatrists, even newspaper publishers retain lobbyists in Pennsylvania.  If God and his political cousin, newspaper owners, need hired guns in Harrisburg, the rest of us surely are going to find the lights out in the state capital if we try to masquerade on our own.

     If that’s what the hobgoblins of Harrisburg really intended to do.  The day the new law went into effect two lawyer/lobbyists filed suit begging the court to throw out Pennsylvania’s Lobbyist Disclosure Act.  It’s wide net and vagaries are clearly unconstitutional and some day soon, most likely before the next election, it will be history.  It will be years, if ever, before another law like it is passed.  Then the trick is on us.  The politicians will claim that they tried again for reform only to be confounded by the courts.  The lights will go off, the doors will stay closed with only an eerie echo of hope that the rest of our interests will be considered in the process.