A total ban on gifts helps limit the most overt
corruption, and it also prevents lobbyists from sharing expensive meals with
legislators as a way to establish and maintain a cozy personal relationship.
While some states have restricted gifts, others still see large amounts
of spending by lobbyists on legislators. In California last year,
lawmakers and gubernatorial aides accepted close to $1 million in meals and
entertainment from lobbyists.
There is no reason for lawmakers to be receiving gifts from lobbyists.
New York recently limited all gifts given in a year to $75 per
legislator. Iowa has a good model law
(Iowa Code Chapter 68B, Section 22) with limited and well crafted
exemptions. At least seven states have a
total ban on gifts.
Even as the federal government does almost nothing to force
lobbyists to disclose their activities, most states require some degree of disclosure
on lobbyists. Disclosure laws typically require lobbyists to list who
they are lobbying for on what issues. The amount of each lobbying
contract is also typically disclosed. Additionally, lobbying activities
should be overseen by an independent body that has the authority to investigate
lobbying activities for compliance with the disclosure law, the ability to
punish violators, and a mandate to make lobbying information easily accessible
to the public. While many states are ahead of the federal government on
this issue, many even now don't require lobbyists and their employees to report
what they spend, and many other loopholes remain in existing state laws.
Best practices for lobbying disclosure and oversight include:
Monthly reporting of
lobbying expenditures, including lobbying contract information and
Online posting of lobby data,
A way to see who is lobbying
on a particular bill and whether they are lobbying for or against it.
regarding how much particular industries are spending on lobbying.
its elections and ethics oversight activities under the Government Accountability Board. Wisconsin
is one of only five states that require lobbyists to disclose what position
they take on bills they are working on, and the state's website allows users to
easily track lobbying on particular bills. Washington's Public Disclosure
Commission, established by the state's Public
Disclosure Law (Chapter 42.17 RCW), has an internet
site with comprehensive information on campaign finance, lobbying
activities, and the personal financial disclosures of elected officials.
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.
Much has been made of the growing influence of small donors
in the 2008 presidential race. These donations have increased
significantly, especially among the Democratic Party frontrunners, who received
over half of their total contributions for the months of March, April, and May
2008 in contributions of less than $200 dollars. However, such donors are
responsible for only slightly more than a third of all donations in the
presidential race from January 2007 to March 2008, up from just over a quarter
in 2003-2004. While this is significant, similar growth has not been seen
in other races; however, there are creative policies that can help fuel an
increase there as well.
Two basic types of donor incentives are currently being used in states -
tax credits and refunds. In states with tax credits, voters are allowed a
credit against personal income taxes for a certain amount of campaign
contributions. States have a diversity of rules regarding which
contributions qualify for the incentives, both the amount and the recipients
(i.e., PACs, political parties, candidates) are regulated.
Minnesota has a unique program
that allows taxpayers to receive a $50 refund for contributions made to
political parties or candidates. As a result of this law, small donations
increased from 34% to 39.2% of total donations between 1990 and 1998, a small
but significant improvement. Recently, some have advocated for a system of
campaign finance vouchers that would allow any citizen to spend a small amount
on political contributions without having to take the money out of pocket and
wait to receive a reimbursement at tax time.
These small donor programs offer an alternative method of public financing that
would go a long way to democratizing campaign finance and reducing the power of
Once the sleepy backwater of electoral politics, judicial elections
have recently become a battleground where right wing and corporategroups
spend large sums to fill the courts with jurists who will support their
interests. This is perhaps the most troubling example of money
corrupting our politics, because instead of pay-to-play politics it
gives us pay-to-win justice. The independence of the judiciary simply
cannot be maintained in an environment where juristsare competing for votes in high-priced, bare-knuckle political brawls.
Those closest to the process are the most aware of the problems that
have infused judicial elections. The American Bar Association itself has endorsed public financing of judicial campaigns.
Increasingly, judges are following suit and suggesting a variety of
ways to get the money out of judicial politics, including public
financing. The group that is leading the effort to reform judicial
elections is the Justice at Stake Campaign.
Much of the information contained in this section is derived from their reports,
and legislators and advocates looking to bolster judicial independence
in their states will find their resources and assistance invaluable.