When a lobbyist lobbies a lobbyist, must he report the cost of their lunch? How about if each pays for his own food? And are the answers different if one “solicits” rather than just “lobbies” the other?

Such are the issues under discussion as the Oregon House Committee on Rules discusses House Bill 3528, which attempts to clarify some questions raised in a recent advisory statement from the Government Ethics Commission.

The baffling complexity belies the simplicity of the public’s interest, which is to know if decision-makers are being unduly influenced by moneyed interests.

Here’s just one of numerous examples from the ethics commission’s March statement:

“Question: Jill and Jack both are registered lobbyists. Jack and Jill go to lunch to discuss legislative measures of mutual interest. No legislators or legislative staff members are present. Jack and Jill each pay for their own lunch. Are Jack and Jill each required to report the amount each expended for food?

“Answer: No, unless either lobbyist solicits the other to influence or attempt to influence legislative action. In that case, the soliciting lobbyist must report his or her expenses.”

Soliciting is described as one component of lobbying: “Solicitation of executive officials or other persons to influence or attempt to influence legislative action.”

Even if we understood the distinction between lobbying that includes solicitation and lobbying that doesn’t, we can’t imagine the public’s interest in the amount Jack and Jill paid for their own lunches.

HB 3528 attempts to clarify by declaring that expenses need not be reported for lobbyists meeting with lobbyists or with their own clients.

The Associated Press reports an additional wrinkle, however, in that many public officials, including senior staff in the governor’s office, are themselves registered lobbyists. HB 3528 may need some revision to fix that loophole.

If that problem can be resolved, HB 3528 is a good move to eliminate some absurdity, and it deserves support. Even better would be a much more thorough review and simplification that focuses on the public’s actual interest and the original purpose of such expense reporting.