Lobbyists’ disclosure data not easily examined, accessed in Arizona

As Arizona struggles with deficits and a failing economy, it is critical to understand the behind-the-scenes lobbying that fuels the state’s political decision-making. On this issue, Arizona’s record is decidedly mixed.

According to the Pacific Research Institute’s “State-Level Lobbying and Taxpayers,” a study that examines lobbying disclosure laws and accessibility to the disclosed information at the state level, Arizona ranked 14th overall among the 50 states with a score of 58.7 percent. This is slightly above the national average of 51.5 percent. Arizona could have done better.

Arizona ranked second in the nation in terms of its lobbying disclosure laws. The study examined the breadth of registration for lobbying activities, the degree of reporting required and exemptions. Arizona received a score of 30 out of 37, or 81 percent, well above the national average of 59.3 percent.

It’s not sufficient, however, simply to require disclosure. The information must be accessible to interested citizens, journalists and lawmakers in a timely and easy manner. On that issue, Arizona performs poorly.

The study analyzed 22 aspects of accessibility, including whether current and historical data was available, how detailed the data available was, whether users could sort and analyze data by different criteria, and the accessibility of the state’s Web site. Arizona scored a dismal of 8 out of 22 (36.4 percent) criteria analyzed, ranking it 31st in the nation and below the national average for accessibility of 43.6 percent.

Arizona’s portal for lobbying information does not contain historical data that allows users to understand and analyze trends over time. Nor does it allow users to download information easily. In addition, Arizona’s portal included only four of 15 lobbying data variables, like the name and location of lobbyists, expenditures, compensation, the source of funding and the sector within which the lobbying took place.

It’s worth noting another important aspect of lobbying regulation – the differential treatment states often accord private-sector lobbying compared to taxpayer-funded lobbying. Private-interest lobbyists must register and report their lobbying activities. Other lobbying is conducted by government entities and funded by taxpayers. To varying degrees, states exempt these public-sector players from the same scrutiny and regulation, even though they pursue the same activities.

Despite its strong disclosure laws, Arizona must undertake efforts to ensure that all lobbying activity is treated equally regardless of the nature of the organization. That is, Arizona must ensure that public- and private-sector lobbying are held to the same standard.

The money funneled into lobbying and the influence it buys affects legislation and sets government priorities for everyone in the state. That calls for an increase in transparency, the key to imposing discipline on special interests and their lobbying.

Arizona has a solid foundation for reform in its strong disclosure laws. The state should duplicate that performance in making information available to interested citizens in a timely, efficient and anonymous manner.

Arizona should further review existing laws to ensure that public and private lobbying activities are treated the same.

Jason Clemens is the director of research at the Pacific Research Institute (www.pacificresearch.org) and a co-author of PRI’s “State-Level Lobbying and Taxpayers.” Lloyd Billingsley is the editorial director at PRI.

Posted in Opinion, Jason-clemens-and-lloyd-billingsley on Sunday, April 4, 2010 12:00 am

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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