Statehouse Lobbying Gets Little Scrutiny
By Kavan Peterson, Staff Writer
Lobbyists spent nearly $130,000 per state legislator in order to influence public policy in 2002, but details of their vote-getting activities remain hidden from view in most states, a study released Thursday found.
Only 39 states require lobbyists and their employers to register at the statehouse and file expenditure reports, which totaled over $715 million last year, according to an analysis of state lobbying regulations conducted by the Center on Public Integrity (CPI), a Washington, D.C. based government watchdog group funded by foundation and private support. But the report found that more than half of states do not fully disclose which interest groups lobby the state government and how much money those groups spend.
"We were surprised to find out that throughout the states there is generally a low level of information revealed about lobbying to the public," said Leah Rush, director of State Projects at CPI and one of the authors of the study.
The report gave 27 states failing grades for their lack of oversight and public disclosure of the large sums of money lobbyists spent trying to influence state lawmakers. No state received an "A" on the Center's survey, and only seven states Washington, Kentucky, South Carolina, Connecticut, New York, Wisconsin, California drew satisfactory scores for outlawing gift-giving to legislators and requiring lobbyists to submit monthly spending reports and lists of the bills they address.
Pennsylvania received a zero in the report because the state Supreme Court threw out the state's lobbying regulations in 2002, leaving lobbyists free to court state representatives with expensive meals and gifts without any public oversight.
"Usually when we do these reports there's at least one shining example of a state with transparent public policy. But what we've learned is that there's a lot of states that are doing a couple of things that are pretty outstanding, but no state is providing a complete picture of lobbying activity," Rush said.
According to the report, more than 34,000 individuals, companies, issue organizations, labor unions and other groups hired 42,000 lobbyists to push their agenda in states' capitols and influence the outcomes of the 29,000 bills lawmakers passed in 2002.