Legislators’ day jobs


What do a state legislator and an aspiring actor have in common?

Neither one can afford to quit his day job — and that can be bad news for the public. A new report from the CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY charges that the personal and professional ties to industry maintained by many state legislators make them ripe for conflicts of interest.

Unlike congressional seats, most state legislative positions are part-time, with average annual salaries of only $18,000. That’s generally not enough to pay the bills, so most legislators have some other job as well, and all too often that job is in an industry regulated by the state legislature.

Some legislators argue that this makes for better law: Who better to regulate an industry than someone who knows it? Maybe so, but some of that law-making makes you wonder. Two legislators in Nebraska pushed for legislation to increase compensation to lottery retailers, taking the money from funds earmarked to pay for education, the environment, and even treatment programs for gambling addiction. The legislators were themselves lottery retailers.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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