While lobbyists and their employers in 39 states spent more than $715 million wining, dining and generally influencing state lawmakers in 2002, many details about how those dollars were spent remain hidden from public view, according to a comprehensive analysis released today by the Center for Public Integrity.
More than half the states received a failing grade for their registration and spending disclosure requirements filed by legislative lobbyists. In fact, no state received an "A" on the Center's 48-question survey. Washington State came in at the top, garnering 87 out of a possible 100 points. Pennsylvania scored a zero because the state's court system rendered the lobby statute null and void in 2002, leaving lobbyists virtually unregulated and the public completely in the dark.
The general lack of scrutiny comes at a time when many states are struggling with their worst fiscal crises since World War II and vested interests are expending more energy to protect their turf in the marbled halls of capitols across the country. More than 34,000 of those interests—companies, issue organizations, labor unions and others—hired a whopping 42,000 individuals to do just that, averaging almost 6 lobbyists—and almost $130,000—per legislator.
One way for the public to trace the fingerprints left on the 29,000 bills states enacted in 2002 is by looking at the disclosure reports lobbyists or their employers are required to file. These reports should show where lobby money came from, where it went, and why it was spent. They are, in short, a critical measure of external influences on both legislation and legislators. But trying to follow that trail with many states' current disclosure mechanisms is a daunting, and sometimes fruitless, challenge.