Statehouse Lobbying Close to $1 Billion
By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer
Corporations, labor unions, professional associations and state agencies spent nearly $953 million to lobby in the state capitols in 2004, according to an August 10 report from the non profit Center for Public Integrity (CPI).
While lobbyists and their employers spent the most money in California, Texas and New York last year, nine states, led by Mississippi, reported an increase of more than 20 percent in lobbying dollars.
At the same time, 11 states enacted new standards for who qualifies as a lobbyist and what kinds of spending they have to report. Eight states did not report a spending total for 2004, including Pennsylvania, the only state without a legal requirement for lobbyists to register and report their spending.
There are more than 38,000 individual lobbyists in the state capitols -- five for every state legislator -- advocating for everything from business tax breaks and tort reform to aid for the poor and tougher requirements for lobbyists.
CPI's annual report gives total spending on lobbying for 42 states, the number of lobbyists registered in those states and recent laws passed regulating lobbyists.
While the public and media often focus on how much lobbyists spend to wine and dine lawmakers, the amount that lobbyists are paid is much higher than entertainment costs in the 10 states that track those figures, said Leah Rush, a researcher for the center.
In Texas for example, the state's 1,460 registered lobbyists earned nearly $160 million dollars last year, 74 times the amount they spent on perks for legislators.
Mississippi reports only earnings for its 402 registered lobbyists, which increased by 36 percent in 2004 to a total $13.6 million. Tort reform, economic development and Gov. Haely Barbour's roots in the lobbying world brought the hired guns out of the woodwork, said Mississippi House Speaker William J. McCoy (D).
"There was a feeling that you had to have a lobbyist if you wanted an ingrown toenail worked on," McCoy told Stateline.org.
Eileen Laramie, a spokeswoman for the Democratic majority in the New York State Assembly, said lobbyists are not just advocating for wealthy special interests. Anyone who spends or is paid $500 must register as a lobbyist in the Empire State, she said. And this year, the state passed a law requiring companies seeking state contracts to register as lobbyists as well.
Since last summer, 10 other states have raised requirements for lobbyists to register and report how they spend their money, including New Jersey, where lobbyists now have to pay a registration fee and are subject to greater auditing by the state.
New rules on lobbying were also enacted in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee and West Virginia.
But loopholes still exist. Fifteen states do not require lobbyists to report their income and Nevada only requires lobbyists to report their expenditures in odd-numbered years when the legislature is in session.
Only Colorado, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia require lobbyists to include campaign contributions in their reports.
Pennsylvania's lobbying laws were struck down by the state Supreme Court in 2002. While the state senate requires lobbyists to register, the public also needs to see the amounts being spent to influence lawmakers, said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania.
"There's a direct correlation between the large well-funded lobbying efforts and those who get their issues on the agenda," Kauffman said.