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Disclosure and Oversight

Overview

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 lobbyist compensation.
  • Online posting of lobby data, updated frequently.
  • A way to see who is lobbying on a particular bill and whether they are lobbying for or against it.
  • Aggregating information regarding how much particular industries are spending on lobbying.
Wisconsin has recently merged 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.

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.