By Janet Coats
Lobbying is as much a part of the legislative process as roll call votes and committee meetings. Every year, state capitals are filled with legislators and lobbyists, rubbing shoulders as deals are made and laws are thrashed out.
Organizations of all political stripes hire lobbyists to press their case with legislators. In many instances, lobbyists have developed subject matter expertise that adds to the discourse about a particular bill. While the word lobbyists conjures up images of backroom deals and undue influence, their role in the legislative process can be -- and often is -- constructive.
The key to keeping lobbyists in their proper role lies in transparency. Laws that require disclosure of who lobbyists are working for and how much their are paid allow citizens a view into the web of relationships that surround issue advocacy. But the laws are only as good as the enforcement -- and that means regular auditing to ensure accuracy and completness of information.
In the State Integrity Investigations' review of lobbying disclosure laws around the country, North Carolina received an A and a top ranking. It's easy to see why when you review both that state's laws and the methods of enforcement.
North Carolina law ensures several levels of transparency:
- Lobbyists are required to register with the state
- The rules apply to those who lobby the governor as well as the legislature
- Lobbyists are required to report both what they spend to lobby and how much they are paid to do it
- Those who employ lobbyists are also required to report payments to all lobbyists on a quarterly basis
- The secretary of state's office follows up on all these requirements with regular audits. It checks all lobbying reports for completeness, cross-checks all monthy and quarterly reports and compares lobbyist disclosure reports to those of their employers to assure the information is consistent.
- Perhaps most importantly, the information is available to the public. Government watchdogs in North Carolina report that lobbyist disclosure forms are posted promptly on the secretary of state's website, and they were unfamiliar with any cases where a disclosure form was delayed because of sensitive information.
Lobbyists will always be part of the process. The key to balancing the voices of lobbyists with those of individual citizens is disclosure, auditing and availability of information to citizens.
Mississippi Overall- C+
14 Indiana -B-
15 New York -B-
New York Overall-D
16 Rhode Island-C+
Rhode Island Overall-C
26 New Hampshire-D+
New Hampshire Overall-D
42 West Virginia-F
West Virginia Overall-D+
44 New Mexico-F
New Mexico Overall-D-
46 South Dakota-F
South Dakota Overall-F
50 North Dakota-F
North Dakota Overall-F