Government Associations Offer Ample Opportunities for Corporations to Buy Influence
By Mel Fabrikant Tuesday, November 13, 2012, 04:15 PM EST
New Report Finds Many Companies Trade Sponsorship for Lobbying Opportunities
Associations of elected and other governmental officials are a haven for influence-peddling, offering special access to decision makers and regulators in exchange for corporate sponsorship, a new Public Citizen report reveals
Although primarily funded by public money, many associations that are meant to bring together government officials with members of the private sector receive significant contributions from corporate sponsors, the report said. Many organizations explicitly state that a primary benefit of corporate membership is access to policy makers. Even when rules are put in place by associations to prevent direct marketing of services to policy makers or attempts to influence policymakers’ decisions, few were found to have any rigorous practices in place to enforce them.
Associations analyzed include the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO), the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Association of State Treasurers and the National Association of Secretaries of State, among others.
With few exceptions, the vast majority of the 13 associations studied for the report were found to lack any significant criteria for determining which companies and industries can become sponsors. Unsurprisingly, some of the biggest donors were found to be from companies and industries that stand to gain financially from decisions made by governmental members. For example, support for the NASEO is dominated by energy companies and energy industry trade associations.
Government associations sometimes claim to be open to the public, yet conferences that bring together corporate and government members often have entry fees as high as $1,000. Even when public access is feasible, the corporate sponsors of associations often are given special time with government members through exclusive “non-official” events.
Public Citizen suggests there should be criteria and guidelines in place for associations so that conflicts of interest are avoided, with no special access to decision makers provided to companies willing to pay for the privilege of being “sponsors.”
“It’s important for state government officials to come together to share ideas, experience and best practices,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “But their meetings shouldn’t serve as a one-stop shopping place for corporate lobbyists and influence-peddlers, with access made available to those willing to pay a high enough price.”