For generations, North Carolina has had a reputation for clean government. While there have been some notable and well-publicized exceptions, our reputation remains high.

Times have changed, however, and the governmental process has gotten much more complex. There are now many more lobbyists involved with the legislative and the executive branches of our government, and our laws spelling out the lobbying rules have not kept up with the changing times. South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia (all of our next-door neighbors) and even most of the states that join them now have more up-to-date laws that cover lobbying activities than we do.

While the great majority of lobbyists follow the rules, our present law has some loopholes that most of us would say need to be closed. One loophole involves what is called “goodwill lobbying.” This involves situations in which legislators or others in government are taken to dinner, a basketball game, a golf tournament or on a vacation trip by a lobbyist. This naturally builds goodwill between those who are spending the money and those who are the recipients–hence the term “goodwill.”

As long as no legislation is discussed during the trip or event, this is a current exception to the rules. While still legal, this exception could allow legislators or others in government to receive a trip to the Masters Golf Tournament, the NCAA finals, a Bowl game, etc. without any public accounting.

In the final analysis, of course, the ultimate result depends on the integrity of individuals, and scoundrels will never be completely deterred by rules and regulations. At the same time, we want to do as much as we can to ensure that people have confidence in their government. If we know what is happening, we can judge for ourselves whether our officials are doing a good job of representing us.

Lobbying rules must necessarily be written in a way that doesn’t cross the line and infringe on the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution. By having these “goodwill” expenses reported and made public, we can take another step toward open government.

A proposal currently before the legislature will remove the goodwill exception to our lobbying laws. As is often the case, its passage may well depend on whether our legislators hear from their folks back home that we think it is a good idea. There is an old saying that goes something like this: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to sit around and do nothing.”

Thank you for contacting your representatives or senators in support of this proposal.

James Holshouser was governor of North Carolina from 1973-1977. William Friday is president emeritus of the University of North Carolina.