Federal Politics

Published — July 10, 2000 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Commentary: Money is influence, information is power

Introduction

Four in ten Americans surveyed could not identify the current vice president of the United States, according to a 1998 survey. Two-thirds of those interviewed did not know the names of their representatives in Congress. If this is an indication of what citizens know about their federal government, what does this disturbing research imply about our knowledge of what goes on in our state legislatures?

Laws passed in state legislatures shape virtually every aspect of our lives our safety, our health, our environment, our children, our pocketbooks, our privacy and our rights as citizens. And with each passing year, we see more legislative activity in the states. During 1999, 25,000 new bills were signed into law in statehouses across the country.

That’s 38,000 reasons to keep tabs on what goes on at the state level. The Center’s 50 States Project was formed to do just that.

With the notion that you cannot know too much about the public actions of public servants, the Center released “Our Private Legislatures’ Public Service, Personal Gain,” an unprecedented investigation of the outside economic interests of state legislators nationwide. Center writers illustrated how lawmakers across the country have placed private business interests ahead of the public trust.

What did we find? That what is often deemed illegal in the halls of Congress is “business as usual” at the statehouse. Some examples:

  • An Alabama lawmaker sponsored legislation to provide $30 million in taxpayer-backed bonds for the University of Alabama-Birmingham, which also happened to be his employer.
  • Nine Connecticut lawmakers whose relatives worked for the states county sheriffs departments in 1999 impeded a constitutional amendment that would have abolished the sheriff system, which has been characterized as little more than “a jobs program for politicians.”
  • Delaware lawmakers with stock in power companies operating in the state weakened conflict-of-interest rules so they could pass electricity deregulation legislation.
  • A Florida lawmaker whose brother is a commercial real-estate developer proposed legislation that would have virtually eliminated state oversight of land-use decisions and severely limited the states ability to control new development.
  • One Montana lawmaker also a real-estate broker who could benefit from increased home sales sponsored a bill that freed real-estate brokers from informing home buyers if a convicted sex offender lived in their new neighborhood.
  • Two Nebraska lawmakers both owners of stores that sell lottery tickets pushed for legislation that would have increased their share of lottery ticket sales and reduced budget funding for gambling addiction services, as well as critical state programs for education and the environment.

Members of the Oregon legislature easily approved a 60 percent pay increase for their legislative assistants at least 15 of whom just happened to be husbands and wives of state lawmakers.

Every time a lawmaker puts private financial interests first at the statehouse, citizens lose out.

It is important to note that the purpose of this report was not to indict part-time citizen legislatures, where people bring professional experience to the statehouse. If the American people want part-time legislatures in the states, then that is their business. Yet these past two years, we couldnt help but notice that current state-level “controls” and disclosure requirements simply fail to ensure that state lawmakers wearing more than one hat do their job properly. Unfortunately, the less the public knows about their politicians, the less power they have to oversee the officials they elect.

As an investigative fact-finding group, we believe that information is the key to citizens power in this democracy. In that spirit, we are pleased to announce the beginning of 50StatesWatch, a series of articles dedicated to covering ethics, disclosure and policy in state legislatures nationwide.

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SOUTH JERSEYTed SiroisMark SullivanTom LarkinAnonymous Recent comment authors
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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
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David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.