State Sen. Randy Laverty of Jasper says that he’s not a lobbyist, despite appearances, but an advocate. He makes a fine distinction. Every lobbyist is an advocate, though not every advocate is a lobbyist. In layman’s terms, a lobbyist is usually a paid advocate. Laverty is paid, in what may be a violation of state law. Naturally, he sees it otherwise.
Until the late 1980s, it was legal for a member of the legislature to be a lobbyist too. A legislator-lobbyist could not only guarantee his own vote for his client’s interests, he could lobby his fellow legislators for theirs. Besides unrivaled access to legislators, the legislator-lobbyist had the advantage of the implied threat. Every legislator knew that if he voted against the legislator-lobbyist’s bill, the legislator-lobbyist might vote against his bill on the next roll call.
Senior members of the legislature worked as paid lobbyists for public utilities, contractors, poultry processors.
That cozy arrangement ended when voters initiated and adopted a code of ethics for public officials in 1988. State law now provides that “No member of the General Assembly shall receive any income or compensation … other than income and benefits from the governmental body to which he or she is duly entitled, for lobbying other members of the General Assembly by communicating directly or soliciting others to communicate with any other member with the purpose of influencing legislative action by the General Assembly.”
Laverty is employed by two non-profit groups that provide services to Medicaid recipients — the Developmental Disability Providers Association, and the Arkansas Association of Area Agencies on Aging. Provider groups such as these are often in conflict with the state Department of Human Services over the amounts paid to providers under the state Medicaid program. They seek assistance from the legislature. Laverty has been standing up for providers against DHS officials in the legislative session that started this month, holding up approval of the DHS budget.
Laverty worked for DHS himself for 18 years. He said he’s considered something of an expert on Medicaid.
“I’ve been privy to some systemic problems in DHS,” Laverty said in a telephone interview. “I think I’ve gotten the ear of people in DHS. … It’s an uneven playing field for providers. Some of these institutions haven’t received Medicaid increases in 10 years. We need a system that looks out for the provider network.”
But his real clients are not the providers who pay him, Laverty said. “It’s all about the people who are being served. These are some of the most vulnerable people in the state. I’m an advocate for elderly people and the developmentally disabled. I have done it in accordance with the Senate ethics rules.”
He said those rules required that he file a statement of financial interest, and that before entering any debate, he disclose his financial interest. “I have done that.”
Laverty said he anticipated that “somepeople would say ‘He’s lobbying.’ ”
“There’s a fight in the Senate,” he said. “They’re wrestling for leadership. I’m seen as one of the Young Turks. I’ve had a series of things like this. I’ve been highly critical of the Huckabee and Bush administrations.”
“We have a citizen legislature. We all have to have other jobs. If I were a pharmacist speaking on pharmacy, I could be criticized. Or a construction worker speaking on construction. What would the legislature be like if it disqualified all insurance agents from the insurance committee? All farmers from the agriculture committee? It would be a sea change.”
Laverty insists that “I am not getting paid to lobby the members of the General Assembly. I’m an advocate for the aged, the infirm and the developmentally disabled.”
Any complaint about Laverty’s situation could be filed with the state Ethics Commission, which generally has jurisdiction over such matters.