KPFA- The Contra Costa times has shed an expository light on how our laws are really made in the state’s capital. The analysis, conducted by the Bay Area News Group, was the first ever undertaken of sponsored bills in California’s state legislature.
A “sponsored” bill is a bill written by a lobbyist instead of a legislator. Ideally, a representative should draft laws with the intent of benefiting their constituency. Instead, a new lawmaking process has effectively taken over the state’s capital in which lobbyists draft bills to directly benefit their corporate clients and then subsequently shop the bills around to agreeable politicians.
Between the 2007-08 legislative period, private interests sponsored more than 1,800 bills, making up 39% of the total bills introduced and 60% of all legislation passed. Half of the 1,883 sponsored bills became law as opposed to only one in five of the 2,982 bills without sponsorship.
According to the report, “more than 500 of the sponsored bills… came from private industries… often seeking to increase market share, repel regulations or limit lawsuits.”
Some committee analyses written by legislative staff openly admit that their bill’s purpose is for the benefit of private industry and not the public, like one backed by the PowerFlare Corporation. Their bill would have “require[d] that electronic roadside beacons replace all standard flares… in use by the state Highway Patrol.”
Although the bill was officially introduced as a way to improve safeguards on the highway, the analysis of the bill stated that it would “significantly increase demand for electronic beacons, which are manufactured by the sponsor of the bill.”
Legislators still claim to have full control over the sponsored bills they introduce, but lobbyists admittedly craft bill language, develop fact sheets for representatives, solicit votes and write speeches for the lawmakers to deliver on the floor. Today, some politicians admit they rely on lobbyists to do most of the work, and they now depend on their support and legal expertise in order to write and pass legislation.
More sponsored bills were introduced by Democrats than Republicans, although more Republicans represented private interests. Disturbingly enough, only ONE out of 122 legislators that served during the session, Senator Tom McClintock, refused to present any sponsored bills.
In many other states, there is no mention of the interest groups supporting a particular bill even if they drafted it and pushed for legislator sponsorship. Yet in California, although there is more transparency, some claim it reinforces the process by validating the power of special interests.
The report’s revelations reveal a system that undermines the democratic process in California by exposing the shadow legislature of special interest sponsorship. When interest groups draft bills, the public welfare goes under represented because lobbyists are only looking out for their vested interests. As long as sponsored legislation continues to reign over the system, there will be a limited capacity for the constituency to hold their elected representatives accountable for their actions.
Written by Abby Martin, reported by KPFA