State Legislators for Sale—In our June 1 FYI we reported that 1,300 of Washington’s corporate lobbyists have given the Bush campaign more than $1.8 million since 1998. Fifty-two from this group additionally gathered more than $6 million from big business donors for the 2004 Bush re-election bank account.
These discoveries came from the difficult-to-decipher reports of the lobbyists by a non-profit, non-partisan watchdog group, the Center for Public Integrity, also known as “the Public-I.” Its penetrating eye has also focused on the lobbyists’ bribery of state legislators; this is an area where disclosure of the handouts of special-interest money is even more carefully obscured.
What the Center found is that lobbyists in 41 state capitals reported spending $889 million to wine, dine and influence state legislators in 2003. Required disclosures in 21 states revealed lobbying increases in 2003 of 10 percent. In eight of them—Delaware, Florida, Maine, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Wyoming—the lobbying increases were 30 percent or more.
The top five states reporting lobbyist spending in 2003 were California, Texas, New York, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. Circling round the statehouses are a strikingly large number of registered lobbyists peddling their wares. In 2003 New York had 3,598 of them; Florida had 3,357; Ohio had 2,167; Illinois had 1,851; Texas had 1,673; Georgia had 1,400; Kentucky had 1,253; Minnesota had 1,250; Michigan had 1,228; and California had 1,177.
The Center’s full report can been seen at www.public-integrity.org.
Stop Press!—Until now we haven’t seen any in-print confessions or regrets that most reporters don’t spend much, if any, time investigating the lobbyists. The lurking lobbyists dole out costly goodies to lawmakers, who write and pass legislation that favors their clients. They can have a big impact, yet the reports on lobbying by the Center for Public Integrity, noted above, didn’t make any “news” that we saw.
Neither did the indirect confessions of journalistic guilt published last month in a report by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (www.people-press.org).
The Pew survey of 547 reporters and editors at national and local news organizations found that “many gave poor grades to the coverage offered by the types of media that serve most Americans: daily newspapers, local and network TV-news and cable news outlets.” The poll of journalists was done in collaboration with the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Committee of Concerned Journalists.
There will be wide agreement with many of the professional journalists’ views. More than half of the national media people questioned—55 percent—agreed that the press treatment of President Bush has been insufficiently probing and critical. In the poll’s assessment of ideological outlook, 69 percent said the pro-Bush Fox News Channel has “the highest profile” as a conservative news organization. And only 20 percent said the New York Times “takes a decidedly liberal point of view.”
Much of the discontent in the newsrooms polled seems to stem from “bottom line” concerns—the increasing fiscal restraints of media owners that have reduced reportorial staffs, curbed investigative assignments and avoided reporting on “complex stories.” Among the national journalists questioned, 66 percent said they were concerned about such financial pressure.
Buried in Print—It got some brief TV-news exposure. Leading Democrat Nancy Pelosi, Representative of California, sharply criticized President Bush for his responsibility for the mess in Iraq. But we had to conduct a difficult hunt to find any coverage of her words in the New York Times or the Washington Post.
“I believe,” said Pelosi, “that the president’s leadership in the actions taken in Iraq demonstrate an incompetence in terms of knowledge, judgment and experience in making the decisions that would have been necessary to truly accomplish the mission without the deaths to our troops and the cost to out taxpayers. . . . The emperor has no clothes,” Pelosi maintained. “When are people going to face the reality? Pull the curtain.”