According to a recent study Massachusetts leads the nation in a rather disquieting statistic: We are number one in the amount of money spent per capita on lobbying state officials. The survey that was published last week by Center for Public Integrity looked at published lobbying information released in all 50 states. In Massachusetts, over $53.5 million was spent lobbying Beacon Hill. The number of registered lobbyists totaled 650. Total dollars spent on lobbying were greater in only two states with a much greater population, New York and California.
To put this in perspective:
o The money spent on lobbying in Massachusetts is over four times greater than would be required to fund the Clean Elections Law ($53.5 million versus about $12 million for Clean Elections). (The special interests are willing to pay to defend their interests on Beacon Hill.)
o There are more than three lobbyists for each of the 200 legislators. And many of these lobbyists are backed by substantial corporate or organizational support. In fact, there are both local and national think-tanks that support the army of lobbyists.
While a few lobbyists – generally the most poorly funded ones – argue for the public interest, the bulk are there to plead for special treatment for interests with a financial stake in legislation. When the time comes to increase auto insurance rates, raise electric power rates, create a tax loophole, curtail the ability of consumers to sue for fraud or defective products, or kill efforts to protect the environment, the Beacon Hill lobbyists swing into action. And they usually prevail.
Every legislator knows that lobbyists are an integral part of the system that funnels corporate money into the campaign coffers of cooperative legislators. Lobbyists transmit corporate agenda to legislators and identify those that are responsive and those that follow an independent course. If you don’t play ball, word quickly gets back to the corporate heirarchy and you will pay the price when you hold your next campaign fundraiser.
Some of the influence of lobbyists is due to the sheer volume of communications they produce. When an important issue is before the Legislature, the lobbying machine will produce letters, reports, studies, op-eds , and seminars that all reinforce the lobbyist position. Legislators are given many excuses for voting with the special interests. The balance in the information cannot be restored by underfunded government agencies that are themselves under pressure not to offend the special interests.
Reformers who want to see the public interest taken more seriously on Beacon Hill are calling for two major changes: First, clean up the campaign financing system that allows corporate lobbyists to use cash to intimidate legislators. Secondly, make sure that public agencies conduct sound and complete analyses of public policy. To do otherwise allows the public debate dominated by hired guns pursuing a corporate agenda. The first concern can be addressed with Clean Elections. The second can be addressed with adequate funding for independent government-sponsored analysis of legislation. It’s no accident that the legislators who are most under lobbyist influence are opposed to both these steps.