Lobbyists spend $21M - disclosure is poor

LANSING - Reported spending by Michigan lobbyists totaled $21,047,625 in the first seven months of 2015, 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 1.3 percent compared to the corresponding period in 2014, when reported spending totaled $20,769,260.

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

• Governmental Consultant Services Inc. - $947,832;

• James H. Karoub Associates - $734,014;

• Kelley Cawthorne - $540,293;

• RWC Advocacy (formerly Wiener Associates) - $389,789;

• Michigan Health and Hospital Association - $327,109;

• Public Affairs Associates - $325,106;

• Midwest Strategy Group of MI - $309,141;

• Muchmore Harrington Smalley Associates - $301,908;

• Kandler Reed Khoury and Muchmore - $238,675;

• Michigan Credit Union League - $211,587

Lobbyists' SNAP - Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for Politicians

Lobbyists provided welfare for politicians in prodigious amounts in the form of food and beverage hospitality. Lobbyists reported that 15 individual legislators consumed more than $1,000 in dining and libations, led by Rep. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton), $3,026, Sen. Tory Rocca (R-Sterling Heights), $2,579, and Rep. Scott Dianda (D-Calumet), $2,569. Itemized totals for hospitality consumed by individual lobbyable officials came to $63,543. Top lobbyist GCSI and its employees was the leading spender in entertaining named individual lobbyable officials, at $27,129.

Lobbyists also spent $112,506 to provide food and beverages in group settings. The most generous hosts in this category were: DTE Energy, $22,761; Michigan Cable Telecommunications Association, $10,731; and Midwest Strategy Group of Michigan, $10,233.

Reporting Thresholds Conceal Beneficiaries of Lobbying Perks

Overall, lobbyists reported that they spent $538,625 for consumable hospitality and travel and accommodations in the first seven months of 2015. Just over $112,000 was spent to provide food and beverages in group situations. Of the remaining $426,000 that was spent, just $68,632, 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 $59 in a month, or $375 in the calendar year, on that individual. Thus, the top recipients of itemized individual dining benefits may have benefited considerably more than was reported.

Another 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 $775 for an occasion of travel. There were just four reported trips involving three lobbyable officials at a cost of $5,091, so far in 2015: Two trips for Sen. Tory Rocca to Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers meeting that cost $1,409, and a trip sponsored by the Michigan Railroad Association for Rep. Peter Pettalia and administration official John Walsh that cost $3,682.

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 $59 in value, as is the case in 2015. Financial transactions between lobbyists and officeholders, such as sales or loans, should be reported from the first dollar, not the 2015 threshold of $1,200.

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.

This news release has been corrected to show that Rep. Aric Nesbitt has benefitted from $3,026 in lobbyists' food and beverage hospitality. It had incorrectly shown that the total was $5,136.

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