The Texas state legislature is an anomaly among its peers, meeting only every other year and for a relatively short period of time, even though members oversee the second-largest and fastest-growing state in the nation.
But the long recess periods do not afford any rest to the influence industry, which has boomed over the last decade into one of the largest lobbying regimes in the nation. In 2021, state records show corporations and interest groups spent more than $260 million trying to win legislators’ favor.
That is up 74% over the amount spent lobbying the legislature a decade ago. Only Colorado’s influence industry saw similar growth, from $32 million in lobbying spending in 2012 to $56.7 million last year, according to data from the government transparency group OpenSecrets.
In total, special interest groups spent more than $2.2 billion lobbying state lawmakers and state governments in 2021, the highest figure ever recorded. However, that number is far from complete: In about half the states, disclosure rules do not require lobbyists or the corporations that hire them to report their spending.
Among the states that do report spending, the amount of money aimed at swaying a state-level lawmaker over the last decade has grown tremendously. In North Carolina, Washington and New Jersey, spending has grown by about two-thirds. In New York, where Democrats took control of the legislature after years of divided power, lobbying spending rose 50 percent.
California lawmakers saw the largest influx of money. In 2012, lobbyists spent $275 million trying to curry favor in Sacramento. By 2021, that number had ballooned to more than $392 million.
The $3.3 million average spent to influence each of the 120 members of the California legislature is nearly half as much as the some $7 million spent on the 535 lawmakers in Congress.
Much of the new spending, according to observers who track lobbyist dollars, is coming from companies that are regulated primarily by the states or those that are not yet regulated but are seeking new entrees into untapped markets. Pete Quist, a researcher at OpenSecrets, pointed to a massive influx of lobbying dollars in New York from ride sharing companies.
“We saw a huge spike in New York State a few years ago when their legislature was considering whether to allow ride share companies to operate,” Quist said. “Uber and Lyft got into lobbying in a new way for them at that time and actually impacted overall totals in New York.”
The influence industry in New York spent $309 million lobbying lawmakers in 2021, up from $205 million in 2012.
Health care firms spend the most on lobbying at both the state and federal level, according to OpenSecrets’s analysis of spending over the last year — though the sources of those funds differ between the two levels.
On the federal level, the pharmaceutical industry spent more than any other last year, $356 million. That makes sense, Quist said, because the authority over whether to approve new drugs or treatments lies with the federal Food and Drug Administration.
But at the state level, hospitals and nursing homes spent $52 million to the pharmaceutical industry’s $32 million. Hospitals and nursing homes are far more impacted by local laws than are pharmaceutical firms.
State lawmakers are also inundated by lobbying dollars shelled out by the lower-level governments they oversee. In many states, counties and cities, water districts, transit authorities, and school boards all employ their own lobbyists to agitate for a piece of the state budget. Last year, government agencies spent $137 million lobbying state-level lawmakers, nearly as much as the health sector.
The finance, insurance and real estate industries along with energy and natural resources firms each spent more than $100 million trying to influence lawmakers in those states that report such data, OpenSecrets found.