Lobbying: Spending up, disclosure poor

LANSING - Reported spending by Michigan lobbyists totaled $20,574,448 in the first seven months of 2014 according to reports filed with the Michigan Department of State that have been compiled by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

That amount is up by 2.5 percent compared to the corresponding period in 2013, when reported lobbyists' spending totaled $20,080,472.

Multi-client firms dominated the list of top spenders among lobbyists, as usual. The top ten spenders in January through July 2014 were:

• Governmental Consultant Services, Inc. - $1,003,005

• Kelley Cawthorne - $771,238

• Karoub Associates - $570,208

• RWC Advocacy (formerly Wiener Associates) - $371,735

• Michigan Health and Hospital Association - $317,244

• Public Affairs Associates - $285,460

• Muchmore Harrington Smalley & Associates - $253,323

• Midwest Strategy Group of Michigan - $246,435

• Michigan Education Association - $217,165

• Michigan Credit Union League - $212,570

Lobbyists' SNAP - Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for Politicians

Lobbyists have spent prodigious amounts to provide food and beverage hospitality to state officeholders: $442,182, so far in 2014. Twelve legislators have already been the beneficiaries of more than $1,000 of such largesse. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, whose dining benefits amounted to $3,586 in the first seven months of the year, was the leading recipient.

Spending for named individual beneficiaries has totaled $51,195. Spending for group events and receptions has totaled $84,959. The gap between spending for named beneficiaries and total spending is a function of the reporting threshold that makes reporting of beneficiaries unnecessary unless an individual lobbyist spends more than $58 in a month, or $350 in a calendar year, to entertain an individual lobbyable official. Thus, Just 31 percent of all food and beverage spending so far this year is connected by public records to the officials who drank and dined on an interest group's tab.

Reporting Thresholds Conceal Lobbying Activity

Other lobbying reporting thresholds hide beneficiaries of lobbing activity. Recipients of travel and accommodations don't have to be reported unless they exceed $775. So far in 2014 only two instances of travel and accommodations for legislators have been reported: The Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers spent $2,368 hosting Rep. Hugh Crawford and Sen. Rebekah Warren; and Google, Inc. spent $4,504 hosting Reps. John Kivela, Aric Nesbitt and Dan Lauwers.

Financial transactions, such as loans, between a lobbyist and a public official, or a member of a public official's immediate family, do not have to be itemized unless they exceed a threshold of $1,175. No such financial transactions have been reported in 2014.

Gifts to public officials are prohibited, but anything of value less than $58 does not meet the threshold definition of a gift and does not have to be reported.

Improving Lobbyists' Reporting

Reporting by lobbyists would be much more meaningful if the lobbyists were required to report the bill(s), budget(s) or regulation(s) on which they are engaged. For multi-client firms, this should include a representation of how much the firm is spending to represent each of its respective clients. Multi-client firms name their clients but do not reveal anything else about their representation. Such information is required in federal lobbying reports.

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