As Congress struggles to maintain public trust in the midst of the lobbying scandal raging in Washington D.C., members could look to the states for ways to revamp the federal system.
A Center for Public Integrity survey that evaluated the strength of lobbying disclosure laws nationwide found the federal law to be weaker than those of 47 of the 50 states.
Since the original 2003 "Hired Guns" report, lawmakers in almost half the states — sometimes prompted by scandals — have beefed up their disclosure laws, but federal legislators haven't.
"The federal law is pretty terrible," said Robert M. Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies, who helped write California's 1974 political reform law.
"Congress should be looking to the states," Stern said, because "states have had tremendous experience with enforcing and administering these laws. They are not that hard to enforce."
While no state earned an "A" when graded on providing the public with full disclosure on behind-the-scenes lobbying in the 2003 survey, Washington state had the highest score, 87 points out of a possible 100. The federal law tied with New Hampshire, earning a failing grade of 36 — almost two and a half times lower. Only Pennsylvania and Wyoming received worse marks.
What's more, 24 states have taken steps either to strengthen their laws or to implement or improve electronic disclosure systems in the two and a half years since the Center's study. At least another eight states have considered or are working on changes.
In comparison, while the Senate Office of Public Records began putting federal lobby spending reports on the Internet in 2001, federal lobbying disclosure laws haven't been modified in the last eight years.