In the States: Lobbyists Descend on the Statehouse

Article excerpt

This fall independent presidential candidate Ross Perot vowed to send congressional lobbyists into permanent retirement - as exhibits at the Smithsonian. "We're going to get rid of them, and the Congress will be listening to the people," he promised.

But Congress isn't the only institution caught in the gridlock of special interests. In recent years lobbyists have headed to state capitals to ply their trade in record numbers. The number of registered lobbyists exceeded 42,500 in 1990 - a 20 percent increase over four years - according to an Associated Press survey.

Some states' regulation of lobbyists, however, has not kept pace with the increased activity, and as a result it's hard for the public to track special interest influence.

With federal cuts in state aid and the transfer of various responsibilities to state legislatures, states now set policy in areas such as the environment, the workplace, consumer affairs and social welfare, and must find ways to pay for these programs.

As a result, more "relationships" have sprung up between state legislators and lobbyists, Rutgers University Professor Alan Rosenthal writes in his new book, The Third House: Lobbyists and Lobbying in the States. "A good relationship means that a lobbyist has an opportunity for contact at practically any point in the process. A lobbyist with a strong tie will get in the door at a critical moment," he writes.

For decades Common Cause state organizations have fought to strengthen the laws and rules affecting lobbyists. And two state organizations recently filed complaints alleging violations of lobbying laws in their respective states.

In August CC/Illinois Executive Director Tracey Litsey called on state Attorney General Roland Burris and Cook County State's Attorney Jack O'Malley to investigate five Nevada-based casino operators for potential violations of the state's lobby registration law. According to a memo obtained by the Chicago-based Better Government Association (BGA), the five men - associated with Caesars World, Circus Circus Enterprises, Hilton Corp. and a coalition of casino interests - met with Illinois legislators to discuss a proposed $2 billion casino and entertainment center in Chicago. (A bill to legalize land-based gambling is strongly supported by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and may be introduced during the November legislative session. …