Conflicted Interests

Published — December 4, 2017

How we investigated conflicted interests in statehouses across the country


The stories you’re reading today are the result of months of dogged reporting. At their heart lie thousands of personal financial disclosure statements filed by state legislators.

Getting all of these disclosures was no easy task.

The project began more than a year ago when the Center for Public Integrity requested the personal financial disclosure reports of state legislators from around the country. Nearly every state, except Idaho, Michigan and Vermont, required lawmakers to file these documents. (Vermont passed a law this year to require them starting in 2018.)

In total, reporters gathered annual financial disclosures for 6,933 of the 7,383 state legislators nationwide sitting in office in 2015. The disclosures cover the 2015 calendar year, except for a small number of cases in which they were unavailable. For those, the Center collected the most recent prior report available for that lawmaker.

The disclosures arrived in various formats, making it impossible to analyze them in bulk. So Center reporters entered available employment information for the lawmakers into spreadsheets. (Download the data.)

To categorize legislators’ business interests, the Center used industry codes developed by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks money’s influence on politics. Reporters also used other data collected by the Institute to identify lawmakers’ districts, party affiliations and committee assignments.

Journalists from the Center and The Associated Press researched the conflict of interest laws in every state and searched for cases in which lawmakers’ jobs overlapped with their legislative duties. To produce this package of stories, reporters: examined legislation; interviewed scores of lawmakers, activists and lobbyists; and reviewed lobbying reports and other state records.

Dozens of journalists worked on this project, including:

The Center for Public Integrity: Iuliia Alieva, Liz Essley Whyte, David Jordan, Michael J. Mishak, Kytja Weir, Ben Wieder, Joe Yerardi and Chris Zubak-Skees.

The Associated Press: State Government Team reporter Ryan J. Foley; data editor Meghan Hoyer; and AP statehouse reporters across the country.

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