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 by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity reveals for the first time the extent to which special interests have infiltrated state legislatures using model legislation.
USA TODAY and the Republic 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.