Lobbyists spent a record $30.2 million in 2005 lobbying Wisconsin lawmakers, according to the Associated Press. Odd-numbered years usually see these numbers increase as the two-year state budget is written. The lobbying figure was $26.3 million in 2003, according to the Associated Press. These spending figures take into account salaries, payments, reimbursements, and fringe benefits paid to lobbyists, as well as overhead and public relations costs.
Those groups, seeking to influence the state’s public officials, have increased by more than 60. That year 651 organizations reported lobbying, while 715 organizations reported lobbying efforts in 2005. All their efforts in 2005 translated into 259,000 hours of work, states the report released last week. The most lobbied bill was the state budget that accounted for 50,000 hours of work, according to the Associated Press.
Senate lobbyists in Pennsylvania also spent a record $67.8 million in the first half of 2005, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Health care lobbyists spent the most, at $15.6 million for the same period, while construction and manufacturing groups spent $15 million and telecommunications groups spent $5.8 million. Pennsylvania has 717 registered lobbyists that represent 1,368 organizations. In 2003 alone, they spent $86.8 million and spent $122.2 million in 2004. These figures were provided in accordance with Pennsylvania’s lobbyist disclosure law of 2005.
Colorado Rep. Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora) is interested in every action lobbyists do in her state, including how much money they donate to lawmakers’ re-election committees, according to the Pueblo Chieftain. Carroll’s bill, HB1149, seeks complete disclosure of everything they do, as well as listing the bills they are lobbying for and against. Her legislation is aimed at closing legal loopholes in her state’s oversight of lobbyists.
Carroll told the Pueblo Chieftain, “Given the influence of professional lobbyists on the laws and public policy in government, at a minimum we need checks and balances that help ensure transparency and accountability in the future. Conflicts of interest need to be out in the open.”
Under state law, lobbyists must register with the Colorado secretary of state and are not required to disclose anything else, but that would change with the passage of her bill, according to the Pueblo Chieftain. Currently, any donations must be reported by the legislators themselves. They must also report all contributions to their campaigns and office accounts.
Under HB1149, all contributions would have to be reported by lobbyists as well as any other business or financial relationships they might have with legislators. The Pueblo Chieftain reports that legislators, or other public officials, could not register as lobbyists for a year following the end of their public service.
Pete Maysmith, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, is supporting Carroll’s legislation and proposing his own. He is supporting separate legislation seeking to prohibit legislators’ use of office accounts. The Pueblo Chieftain reports he also wants to prohibit lawmakers from accepting speaking fees and honoraria and is pressing for the creation of an independent commission to review breaches in ethics. Thirty other states have created similar commissions.
Maysmith wrote in an e-mail message from ProgressNowAction.org, “The lobbying scandals in Washington surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff and indicted (U.S. Rep.) Tom DeLay (R-Texas) confirm what many of us have long suspected: The link between big money and politics leads to corruption.” ProgressNowAction.org is a liberal education group promoting the ideals of the Democratic Party. Maysmith continued, “The corruption in Washington is the result of a total system failure. This year’s Colorado Legislature can be remembered as the one that stood against influence peddling and lobbyist freebies by passing substantive reforms.”
On the sadder side of the coin, there is a firm based in Washington, D.C. that conducts training seminars on how Washington works. TheCapitol.Net charges $495 for courses on how to get an earmark and how to counter “public criticism of pork.” Earmarks are a tiny part of the federal budget, according to GovExec.com, but the lawmakers don’t allocate earmarks based on need but on connections.
Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) declared in a letter to Senate colleagues in January, “We believe that the process of earmarking undermines the confidence of the American public in Congress, because the practice is not open, fair, or competitive and tends to reward the politically well connected,” according to GovExec.com.