A two-year investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found startling conflicts of interest and other flaws in the system of state government, affecting policy decisions on everything from education to nuclear waste, taxes to health care.
In 1999, state governments introduced 139,097 bills and enacted 25,031, according to StateNet, and collected more than $470 billion in taxes. All the while they operate under disclosure laws much less stringent than those that govern members of Congress.
Despite the power and money that flows through statehouses, 41 out of the 50 legislatures are run by part-timers who meet a few months each year, and draw salaries that average about $18,000 annually. (Full-time salaries are much higher, averaging about $57,000.) In the end, even some of the most populous states leave the public interest to career lawyers, bankers, farmers, lobbyists and insurance brokers in the legislature.
According to an analysis of financial disclosure reports filed in 1999 by 5,716 state legislators:
- More than one in five sat on a legislative committee that regulated their professional or business interest.
- At least 18 percent had financial ties to businesses or organizations that lobby state government.
- Nearly one in four received income from a government agency other than the state legislature, in many cases working for agencies the legislature funds.
The report is the culmination of an unprecedented study by the Center, a non-profit, non-partisan government watchdog group. Funding for this report came from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Deer Creek Foundation, Ford Foundation, Joyce Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Alida R. Messinger, and the Open Society Institute.