People have a right to know who is influencing elected officials while they create public policy. That lobbying information is most useful when it is reported as it happens. On the federal level, registered lobbyists are required to report their activities each quarter. While not perfect, it’s a start, and I wanted to know how the states compared.
Twenty-six states require reports at least as frequently as the federal government. As demonstrated by the following chart, the most common reporting requirements on the state level are quarterly and twice a year. Eight states require activity reports only once a year.
The “other” category is comprised of eight states, seven of which have stricter reporting requirements when the state legislature is in session. While the increased reporting frequency is a step in the right direction, it’s a questionable phenomenon – who decided lobbying influence only happens while the legislature is in session? For example, in New Mexico, reports are due within forty-eight hours of each expenditure made or incurred in the amount of $500 or more while the legislature is in session. Otherwise reports are only due twice a year, creating a significant lag time between when a lobbying activity happens and when the public can know about it.
- In Alaska and Arkansas, lobbyists are required to file monthly reports while the legislature is in session and quarterly reports when it is not.
- In Connecticut, activity reports are due quarterly unless the state legislature is in session and the lobbyist has expended or agreed to expend $100 or more for legislative lobbying. Under these circumstances the activity reports are due monthly.
- In Georgia, reports are due twice a month while the legislature is in session and monthly during the rest of the year.
- In Kansas, the reports are due monthly for the four months that the legislature is in session, then two reports (each covering four months) are sufficient for the rest of the year.
- In North Carolina, reports are due quarterly, but each lobbyist that incurs reportable lobbying expenditures in any month while the legislature is in session must additionally submit a monthly report.
The last state in the “other” category is Rhode Island, which is unique in that it has different reporting requirements for “standard” (legislative branch) and “executive” (executive branch) lobbyists.
- Standard lobbyists are required to submit monthly reports beginning with a report on March 15th that covers January and February, then individual monthly reports thereafter. In addition, “final reports” are due at the conclusion of a legislative session. These reports summarize all the lobbying activity for the session, as well as signify that a lobbyist has finished lobbying for the session. Annual reports also need to be submitted by January 15th of every year. These reports include an itemized report of any money or item valued over $250 given or promised to any major state official during the preceding year.
- Executive lobbyists are required to file semi-annually reports.
The majority of states have reporting requirements just as strict as the federal government’s, if not stricter. However, only New Mexico comes close to requiring real-time reporting with reports due within 48 hours, but that is only when lobbying expenditures are involved and the legislature is in session. While tracking monetary influence is certainly important, lobbyists can also impact legislation without spending a dime. Real-time reporting of significant lobbying contacts with public officials would take us a step closer to meaningful disclosure.