How special interest groups write our laws

There’s a fascinating study by USA Today and others about how special interest groups, corporations, etc. actually write the laws that affect us in every state.  Here’s a brief excerpt.

Each year, state lawmakers across the U.S. introduce thousands of bills dreamed up and written by corporations, industry groups and think tanks.

Disguised as the work of lawmakers, these so-called “model” bills get copied in one state Capitol after another, quietly advancing the agenda of the people who write them.

A two-year investigation … found at least 10,000 bills almost entirely copied from model legislation were introduced nationwide in the past eight years, and more than 2,100 of those bills were signed into law.

The investigation examined nearly 1 million bills in all 50 states and Congress using a computer algorithm developed to detect similarities in language. That search – powered by the equivalent of 150 computers that ran nonstop for months – compared known model legislation with bills introduced by lawmakers.

The phenomenon of copycat legislation is far larger. In a separate analysis, the Center for Public Integrity identified tens of thousands of bills with identical phrases, then traced the origins of that language in dozens of those bills across the country.

Model bills passed into law have made it harder for injured consumers to sue corporations. They’ve called for taxes on sugar-laden drinks. They’ve limited access to abortion and restricted the rights of protesters.

In all, these copycat bills amount to the nation’s largest, unreported special-interest campaign, driving agendas in every statehouse and touching nearly every area of public policy.

There’s much more at the link.  Highly recommended reading.

This is how the gun control lobby is trying to get around the Second Amendment.  They’ve had little success in passing Federal legislation to control firearms across the country;  so, a few years go, they switched the battlefield to the states.  Bloomberg-sponsored legislation targeted over 12 states back in 2014, and the number has grown since then.  Gun control is only one such pressure group.  There are many more.

The Washington Post proclaims luridly at its masthead that “Democracy dies in darkness”.  I think it dies in the back rooms where deals are made to introduce and pass such partisan, copy-and-paste legislation.



  1. OK, why is anybody surprised? This is how politics WORKS. People with a vested interest in some result push to achieve it. People who don't bother to be involved get stuck with the results. Better back rooms than Throne Rooms; anybody who cares has access to the back rooms.

  2. In 2011, CBS News mentioned that GE paid zero US income taxes. That led to an apocryphal discussion over the question: Does GE write US tax law?

    Probably yes.

  3. Ah, corporate lawfare at it's finest.

    When will the powers behind Bloomberg start running out of money? Please let it be soon.

  4. Model bills have been around a long, long time. They aren't some plot by special interest groups, they are an adaptation to the US's federal system. Most are written by experts in each particular area of the law. Whether a model bill written by an industry association counts as a "special interest group" in some sinister fashion is a matter of opinion.

    Most model bills cover everyday things (e.g. Uniform Commercial Code). The economy works much better when state laws are consistent and people can travel between states and have some assurance that laws won't be drastically different.

    The alternative is Federal legislation which imposes one standard across the country. In some cases this is happening but there are constitutional limitations to what the Federal government can do (which are sometimes still followed).

    So which is better? Model bills (copycat legislation) which mean that legal standards are consistent across state lines or each state passing a separate unique law to govern common interactions between people?

    And once you get past model bills, remember that the standards which allow your tech devices to interact (WIFI, etc) are all written by special interest groups (standards committees with members from companies in the industry). Shall we have each manufacturer build to its own specification (somewhat analogous to each state writing its own law) or strive for consistency and compatibility?

  5. Thomas,

    you have artfully dodged the major complaint about this sort of legislation: it makes the various levels of .gov MORE EFFICIENT! That is the LAST thing the people want to see, as it is always to the detriment of the citizens. Always. Those politicians don't have to do their job this way, someone else is doing it for him. Lots more time to cause trouble for us. They should damn well have to slave over every bit of legislation they deal with. In fact, I would like to see their office staff eliminated, to force them to do it themselves. They want the big bucks that is available to officeholders through legal graft? Work for it.

  6. Beans:

    when you acquire Bloomburg's level of wealth, it grows yearly, unless you are a moron in mental acuity. He's not going to run out of money, barring a new Carrington Level Event. It would require another billionaire to put a stop to him, money/spending wise.

  7. Will, the other side of consistency in state laws is occupational licensing, which differs state by state, and can mean if you have 20 years experience in some occupation but move to another state you an be forced to spend thousands of dollars and spend months or years taking courses to meet the different requirement of the new state.

    There are efforts to figure out how to steamline this for military spouses who can find themselves unable to work when stationed in a new state because licenses don't transfer.

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