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Pennsylvania

Lobbyist cites 'oversight' in registration snafu

| Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2007

HARRISBURG -- A former Pittsburgh TV anchor who raises campaign money for Gov. Ed Rendell said Tuesday it was an "oversight" that she didn't register as a lobbyist for a California production company that advocated passage of the state's new $75 million film tax credit law.

Leslie McCombs said she was paid a "minimal amount" by Lionsgate film company, of Santa Monica, to "oversee their efforts." McCombs had "informal" conversations about the film credit legislation with Rendell and discussed changing provisions of the bill with other lobbyists and advocates in June, according to copies of her e-mails published by Capitolwire.com.

McCombs yesterday registered with the Department of State as a lobbyist for Lionsgate.

"It was definitely an oversight on my part," she told the Tribune-Review.

The acknowledgment follows passage last year of a highly touted lobbyist disclosure law aimed at informing the public about how much companies and institutions spend to affect the outcome of legislation. It wasn't clear whether McCombs or Lionsgate would face penalties.

McCombs, a former news anchor on Fox 53 who has appeared in seven episodes of "The Kill Point" on Spike TV, said she didn't think she needed to register for Lionsgate because she was registered as a lobbyist for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. She said UPMC cleared her to work on the film tax issue as a one-time deal.

Lionsgate, which produces "The Kill Point," filmed in Pittsburgh, hired the lobbying firm of former House Minority Whip Mike Veon as its main lobbyist. Veon Kopp & Associates employs Colleen Kopp, a former deputy secretary of legislative affairs for Rendell.

Dawn Keezer, head of the Pittsburgh Film Office, said McCombs "helped use her connections to help get the film legislation passed."

The tax credit already has had an impact on getting movie companies to film in Pittsburgh, Keezer said.

"Without tax credits, no one comes," she said.

"(McCombs) has been a great supporter of the film industry in Western Pennsylvania, and she has been a great help to my office," Keezer said.

McCombs is part of a group of people who dine with Rendell when he visits Pittsburgh. In e-mails to the Trib on Tuesday, McCombs said she and her husband are "committed" supporters of Rendell. McCombs said she preferred to be interviewed by e-mail rather than by phone.

"I'm really excited to have been a part of such monumental changes for the region," McCombs said.

Lionsgate officials were unavailable for comment.

Lionsgate would be required to file lobbying expense reports if it spent $2,500 or more for the quarter ended June 30.

"That trigger would be tripped quickly after retaining one or two lobbying firms," said Andrew Crompton, senior counsel for Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County. Crompton assisted in writing the state's lobbyist disclosure law last year.

Veon Kopp & Associates listed Lionsgate as a client on May 28.

There are fines and other penalties for not registering, which the Ethics Commission or attorney general could levy, Crompton said.

"If Ms. McCombs was working as a lobbyist when she talked to the governor about the film tax credit, she should have been registered as such, and if she has not yet done so, she should amend her paperwork with the Department of State," said Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo.

McCombs said she did not register earlier as a Lionsgate lobbyist because "there's quite a bit of confusion on this, as the (lobbying) laws are new."

Barry Kauffman, lobbyist for Common Cause of Pennsylvania, agreed that state regulations on lobbying are still "in flux" because they haven't been published by a special state panel.

But Kauffman said the law is "very clear" that a company would have to register if it spends more than $2,500 in a quarter, and that McCombs in that case should have amended her lobbyist statement to include Lionsgate.

Kauffman said he understands that "the fines are minimal or nonexistent as long as you get yourself in compliance."

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