LANSING - Reported spending by Michigan lobbyists totaled $35,431,637 in 2013 according to reports filed with the Michigan Department of State that were compiled by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
That amount is down by 4.6 percent compared to reported lobbying expenditures from 2012, and almost identical to the reported total from 2011.
Multi-client firms, as usual, dominated the list of top spenders among lobbyists. The top ten spenders were:
• Governmental Consultant Services Inc. - $1,629,864
• Kelley Cawthorne - $1,093,296
• James H. Karoub Associates - $986,264
• Wiener Associates - $589,324
• Michigan Health and Hospital Association - $531,717
• Public Affairs Associates - $484,832
• Muchmore Harrington Smalley Associates - $472,575
• Michigan Education Association - $424,874
• Michigan Credit Union League - 384,834
• Kheder Davis and Associates - $374,305
Lobbyists' SNAP - Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for Politicians
Lobbyists provided welfare for politicians in prodigious amounts in 2013 in the form of food and beverage hospitality. Lobbyists reported that 27 individual legislators consumed more than $1,000 in dining and libations, led by Rep. Frank Foster (R-Petoskey), $5,388, and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe), $4,560. Itemized totals for individual lobbyable officials came to $99,192. Top lobbyist GCSI and its employees was the leading spender in entertaining individuals at $41,348.
Lobbyists also spent $163,116 to provide food and beverages in group settings. The most generous hosts in this category were: DTE Energy, $20,501; Michigan Cable Telecommunications Association, $19,712; Accenture LLP, $14,560; and Consumers Energy, $13,488.
Reporting Thresholds Conceal Beneficiaries of Lobbying Perks
Overall, lobbyists reported that they spent $820,000 for hospitality, travel and accommodations in 2013. Just over $163,000 was spent to provide food and beverages in group situations. Of the remaining $657,000 that was spent, less than $115,000, or 17.5 percent, was connected to a named beneficiary. That is because of reporting thresholds that excuse lobbyists from identifying the recipients of much of their largesse.
Individual beneficiaries of dining hospitality did not have to be identified unless a lobbyist spent more than $58 in a month, or $350 in the calendar year, on that individual. Thus, the top recipients of itemized individual dining benefits may have benefited considerably more than was reported.
The more likely area of perquisites with unnamed beneficiaries is travel and accommodations. The beneficiaries of travel and accommodations did not have to be named unless spending on their behalf exceeded $750. Just three officeholders were named in itemized travel reports: Sens. Randy Richardville and Mike Kowall, who traveled to Austin, Texas as guests of Sterling Corporation and Somnio Global to participate in a panel discussion, at a cost of $15,000; and Rep. Wayne Schmidt, who was the guest of the Michigan Railroad Association, at a cost of $750.
Improving Lobbyists' Reporting
Reporting by lobbyists could be made much more meaningful if multi-client lobbyists were required to report how much they spend representing each of their clients. As it is, the multi-client firms report overall spending and they name their roster of clients, but they do not report their spending as it relates to each respective client.
Reporting thresholds for itemized lobbying reporting should be rolled back to zero. The beneficiaries of spending for food and drinks, and for travel and accommodations, should be reported from the first dollar spent. Gifts, other than inexpensive plaques or awards, should be prohibited, not just if they exceed $58 in value, as is the case. Financial transactions between lobbyists and officeholders, such as sales or loans, should be reported from the first dollar, not the prevailing threshold of $1,175.
Lobbyists should be presumed to be rational economic actors who are representing rational economic actors in the lawmaking process. Citizens should have a right to know what they are spending to influence officeholders and administration officials.
Annual Lobbying Expenditure Totals
• 2013: $35,431,637
• 2012: $37,154,167
• 2011: $35,439,712
• 2010: $31,831,250
• 2009: $32,145,885
• 2008: $34,281,313
• 2007: $32,175,110
• 2006: $30,209,594
• 2005: $29,651,597
• 2004: $26,103,954