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Lobbying Reform

Overview

The federal lobbying scandal centered around Jack Abramoff, who was recently sentenced to almost six years in prison for bribery, is unfortunately mirrored by the flow of crooked money into our statehouses as well.  Recent examples are Governor Bob Taft of Ohio, who pled guilty for not disclosing gifts and golf outings paid for by lobbyists, and a Tennessee investigation which led to the arrests of five current and former lawmakers on charges of accepting bribes, conspiracy, and extortion.

Lobbying at our statehouses is a billion dollar per year business.  In 2004, nearly 47,000 separate groups hired more than 38,000 lobbyists, for an average of five lobbyists and $130,000 in expenditures per state legislator.  Especially in states with few legislative staff, this army of lobbyists often becomes the dominant source of policy information and power -- greased with lobbyist-paid dinners, entertainment, and travel.

To give just one example, the Center for Public Integrity has highlighted the pharmaceutical industry's lobbying at the state level, a $44 million operation during 2003 and 2004.  And they used the money to shoot down a wide variety of state reform efforts trying to lower the cost of prescription drugs for consumers.  Dozens of key lawmakers across the country were given tickets to sporting events, invited to golf outings, or flown to resorts.

Two States With Tarnished Images Make Strong Gains on Ethics in 2008

Many states have suffered from public officials being involved in ethics scandals.  While sometimes there is talk of reform and other overtures, comprehensive reform is most often elusive.  However, some states have managed, either in response to one particularly egregious event or a history of problems being overturned in a wave of dissatisfaction, to truly make a fundamental change.  This year Connecticut once again moved forward with a multi-year ethics reform initiative, and Louisiana enacted one of the most far-reaching ethics overhauls any state has in generations.

Cleaning Up Corruption in the Statehouses

At the core of many voters' frustrations with government is the sense that, too often, politics is for sale. High-priced lobbyists offering "gifts" to lawmakers swarm state legislatures; companies looking for public contracts get too cozy with those handing out public money; and corporate campaign contributions grease the wheels as public policy is auctioned to the highest corporate bidder.