Inside Public Integrity

Published — October 23, 2019

Center for Public Integrity wins 2019 EPPY Award for ‘Copy, Paste, Legislate’

Introduction

Our “Copy, Paste, Legislate” series, showing the hidden hand of special interest groups and lobbyists in writing laws across all 50 states, just won the 2019 EPPY Award for Best Collaborative Investigative/ Enterprise Feature. Public Integrity shares that award with USA Today and The Arizona Republic.

The series exposed how state legislators frequently proposed new laws shopped to them by corporations, interest groups or lobbyists.

Among others, these resulted in laws that enabled the resale of defective cars and weakened restrictions on smoking and protections on religious freedom across America. In all, they constitute the largest unreported special-interest driven influence campaign in America.

These copy-and-paste bills are commonly known as model legislation. More than 2,100 of these bills have been signed into law in the past eight years. While our joint analysis found more than 10,000 copied bills, the real number is probably higher.

The investigation examined nearly 1 million bills in all 50 states and Congress using a computer algorithm developed to detect similarities in language. That search — powered by the equivalent of 150 computers that ran nonstop for months — compared known model legislation with bills introduced by lawmakers.

The phenomenon of copycat legislation is far larger. In a separate analysis, Public Integrity’s developer Pratheek Rebala built a tracker that identified tens of thousands of bills with identical phrases, using text analysis.

Then, our reporters Rui Kaneya, Liz Essley Whyte, Kristian Hernández, Mark Olalde and Jared Bennett put in shoe leather reporting to flesh out precisely what this meant on issues affecting our communities.

They found auto dealers crafting laws that enabled the sale of defective cars in at least 11 states.

Special interest groups passing anti-Islamic laws in six states.

Surprisingly, a push to drive up the smoking age to 21 driven by Big Tobacco. (Critics saw it as a ploy to forestall the passing of tougher rules.) Full scope of our coverage found here.

The EPPY awards, presented by Editor and Publisher, honor the best in digital media.

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