A State by State Look at Lobbyist Disclosure


by Eric Dunn, Sunlight policy intern

All 50 states require lobbyists to disclose some information about their work. Some require detailed online reporting while others just ask lobbyists to check in every now and then. Previously, Sunlight has looked at who has to register as a lobbyist, when they have to register and how much it costs. In this post, we reviewed the forms lobbyists file with state governments to disclose their expenditures in order to see what lobbyists report and how they do so.

What they report

Thirty states require lobbyists to disclose the issue or government action they were trying to influence. The states that have this requirement usually have lobbyists note the “purpose” of any given transaction with a code that corresponds to a specific issue area. This makes them into easily searchable samples. New York’s lobbyist disclosure form is especially detailed – lobbyists are required to list any bills, issues, or agency actions lobbied in a bimonthly report.

In thirty-eight states, lobbyists must disclose the name of legislators who receive or benefit from specific gifts (often defined as items with value or honoraria). Almost three-fourths of state forms require lobbyists to disclose the date a specific gift was made (twenty-nine states require both pieces of information).

How they report

Forty states allow lobbyists to file expenditure forms online. Most states have a registration system that requires lobbyists to obtain a unique ID and password before submitting expenditure reports. Thirty-seven states release these expenditure reports online to the public.

In addition to online filing, nineteen states publish searchable, sortable databases of registered lobbyists. Tennessee, for example, allows you to search by issue area, lobbyist or employer name. You can see who hired the lobbyist and how much they were paid. Nevada even has a lobbyist facebook so you can pick out lobbyists from a crowd, which Sunlight has tried to do at the federal level.

Follow the money and actions

In the city of San Francisco, lobbyists are required to report significant contacts made with legislators. Currently, no state has a similar reporting mechanism in place. As Sunlight has highlighted, disclosing significant contacts made by lobbyists is vital to making government more transparent.

The Lobbyist Disclosure and Enhancement Act, introduced last month in Congress, is an opportunity for the federal government to implement some of Sunlight’s suggestions for lobbying reform at the federal level. Good reporting practices go deeper than financial disclosure. The public deserves to know what lobbyists are doing.

You can see a copy of many state lobbying report forms here. Some reports are not available because states have online systems instead of one page forms.