State lobbyists' spending topped $37M in 2014

LANSING - Reported spending by Michigan lobbyists totaled $37,038,329 in 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 4.1 percent compared to reported lobbying expenditures from 2013, and just less than the record spending of $37,152,883 reported in 2012. With several lobbyists' reports for the last five months of 2014 still outstanding, it is likely that the 2014 total will set a new record for reported spending by state lobbyists.

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

• Governmental Consultant Services Inc. - $1,704,720

• James H. Karoub Associates - $1,479,059

• Kelley Cawthorne - $1,335,613

• RWC Advocacy (formerly Wiener Associates) - $632,326

• Michigan Health and Hospital Association - $547,920

• Public Affairs Associates - $503,399

• Muchmore Harrington Smalley Associates - $474,741

• Midwest Strategy Group of MI - $446,668

• Michigan Education Association - $399,498

• Michigan Legislative Consultants - $398,839

Lobbyists' SNAP - Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for Politicians

Lobbyists provided welfare for politicians in prodigious amounts in 2014 in the form of food and beverage hospitality. Lobbyists reported that 21 individual legislators consumed more than $1,000 in dining and libations, led by then-Senate Majority Leader Randy Richard (R-Monroe), $5,136, and Rep.Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton), $3,865. Itemized totals for hospitality consumed by individual lobbyable officials came to $80,356. Top lobbyist GCSI and its employees was the leading spender in entertaining individual lobbyable officials at $35,643.

Lobbyists also spent $126,843 to provide food and beverages in group settings. The most generous hosts in this category were: DTE Energy, $21,898; Michigan Cable Telecommunications Association, $16,505; GCSI, $15,931; and Accenture LLP, $10,000.

Reporting Thresholds Conceal Beneficiaries of Lobbying Perks

Overall, lobbyists reported that they spent $725,000 for hospitality, travel and accommodations in 2014. Just over $126,000 was spent to provide food and beverages in group situations. Of the remaining $599,000 that was spent, less than $98,000, or 16 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 for an occasion of travel. There were just five reported trips involving 13 lobbyable officials at a cost of $17,319 in 2014.The costliest reported trip, at $6,183, was provided by Google, Inc. Reps. Tim Kelly, John Kivela, Don Lauwers and Aric Nesbitt were Google's guests for an Internet state policy conference.

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. State regulation requires only that multi-client firms report their overall spending and their roster of clients, but they do not have to 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 was the case in 2014. Financial transactions between lobbyists and officeholders, such as sales or loans, should be reported from the first dollar, not the 2014 threshold of $1,175.

Citizens should have a right to know the whole story of what lobbyists are spending to influence officeholders and administration officials. Not only should citizens know who is being lobbied and what hospitality they are receiving, they should know what bills, budgets and regulations the lobbyists are advocating.

Annual Lobbying Expenditure Totals, 2005-2014

• 2014: $37,038,329

• 2013: $35,577,453

• 2012: $37,152,883

• 2011: $35,439,135

• 2010: $31,831,250

• 2009: $32,145,885

• 2008: $34,281,313

• 2007: $32,175,110

• 2006: $30,209,594

• 2005: $29,651,597

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