Lobbyists in Statehouses

Lobbyists' activities in Washington are well known, but in individual states, they remain largely in the shadows. A report by the Center for Public Integrity in Washington shows how those lobbyists spend money to influence state lawmakers and legislation, with little oversight.

The report found that 42,000 lobbyists, and the companies or interests they represent, spent more than $715 million last year trying to influence legislators in 39 states. That's six lobbyists and $130,000 per legislator.

The center gave half those states a failing grade for not registering and disclosing lobbyists' activities. Pennsylvania scored a zero. That state's laws leave lobbyists entirely unregulated. Only seven states prohibit lobbyists from giving gifts to legislators.

Laws relating to lobbyists range widely among states. New Hampshire has a one-page lobby law; California's is 117 pages long.

The main point is that citizens should know when money influences a lawmaker's vote, or at least when money buys access.

The center's report judged Washington State to be the cleanest. Olympia requires lobbyists to register with an oversight agency, identify whom they work for, and file a spending report every month. The public has easy access to the data.

States with failing grades should enhance their rules for lobbyists, perhaps following Washington State's model.

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