Mar 9, 2010

Lobbyists hold sway with term limits

An extensive study by a team of political science faculty at Wayne State University confirmed what many people in Michigan already know: Michigan’s term limits for legislators is an abject failure that has led to lobbyists having more influence in Lansing than ever before and Legislators are spending less time monitoring state agencies.

The study was led by Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson, professor of political science in WSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the author of “The Political and Institutional Effects of Term Limits.” The recent study was published in the February edition of the “Legislative Studies Quarterly.” The study showed the six-year term limit for state representatives and eight-year term limit for state senators have largely failed to fulfill promises made to Michigan citizens who voted the 1992 proposal into effect.

“Many Michigan citizens do not realize that our term limits are among the shortest in the nation, or that only 15 states have them at all," Sarbaugh-Thompson said. "These term limits were sold to Michigan voters on the notion that they would sever close ties with lobbyists and cause legislators to be more independent; in reality, we found them to have the opposite impact."

The report was based on more than 400 interviews with Michigan legislators between 1998 and 2004. The study team assessed who or what influenced legislators' policy-making decisions as well as how conflicts within their committees and between party members are resolved. Campaign finance reports were also reviewed to investigate whether representatives' financial relationships with special interest groups had changed from before and after term limits were introduced.

The results of the research show that lobbyists' influence over legislators was not only maintained after term limits were in effect, but may have increased. The research showed lobbyists are now the subject matter experts in many field, and if a lobbyist lies to a lawmaker on an issue, the lawmaker is gone long before they realize it while the lobbyist stays on. Lobbyists were also cited among the top three actors that determined whether a bill reached the floor of the chamber after term limits were in effect.

Public support for ending term limits is building. Last November results from Michigan State University’s State of the State Survey - conducted by the Office for Survey Research in the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR) - showed about 61 percent of Michigan residents favored lifting the 14-year lifetime limit on state House and Senate terms.

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