By CRAIG MAUGER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING — For lobbyists and the expense accounts they use to woo Michigan lawmakers, 2016 is shaping up to be one heck of a year.
Over the first seven months of 2016, January through July, lobbyists reported $21.7 million in spending, according to disclosures filed with the state at the end of August. That total, $21.7 million, is the most spent on lobbying over the first seven months of a year in Michigan’s history.
It beats the pace of 2015, a year that set the record for lobbyist spending. Lobbyists reported spending $38.7 million for the entirety of 2015. By the end of July 2015, they had spent just $21.0 million. The 2016 pace is beating the 2015 pace by more than 3 percent.
A full list of the top 200 lobbyists of the first seven months of 2016 is available here. Multi-client firms that represent a variety of interest groups and advertise themselves as giving clients an "edge" or as offering a "new level in government reltations" lead the list.
Spending on lobbying has trended upward in Michigan for more than a decade now. In 2007, only $17.7 million had been spent as of the end of July. The 2016 pace beats the 2007 pace by about 22 percent.
A few years after 2007, in 2010's gubernatorial election, Gov. Rick Snyder, then a first-time candidate, made the amount of money that was being spent on lobbying a campaign issue.
“Given the fact that annual lobbying figures have increased throughout most of the past decade, Michigan’s citizens deserve improved disclosure to assess the extent and nature of how lobbyists influence public policy,” said Snyder’s proposal called “Create A Culture of Ethics In Michigan’s Government.”
But the spending total by lobbyists has continued to increase under Snyder’s leadership. Over the first seven months of 2011, his first year in office, only $19.6 million was spent on lobbying. Now, for 2016, spending is up to $21.7 million.
Large multi-client lobbying firms based in Lansing have helped drive spending upward. For the first seven months of 2016, the six top lobbyist spenders were all multi-client firms.
The top one, Governmental Consultant Services Inc. (also known as GCSI), reported spending $931,494. Governmental Consultant Services Inc. represents numerous clients, including Consumers Energy, the Auto Dealers of Michigan, the Michigan Library Association, the Michigan Trucking Association and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
The other top spenders were James H. Karoub Associates ($875,541), Kelley Cawthorne ($528,420), Midwest Strategy Group of Michigan ($438,059), RWC Advocacy ($356,402) and Muchmore Harrington Smalley and Associates ($332,091).
While multi-client firms are driving spending, they also make it more difficult to follow the money of who’s trying to influence whom. Under Michigan’s lobbying laws, the multi-client firms don’t have to disclose how much they’re spending on behalf of which clients and they don’t have to disclose what bills they’re spending money to influence when they purchase meals or drinks for lawmakers.
Some of the top interest groups in lobbying spending so far in 2016 have been the Michigan Health & Hospital Association ($318,329), Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company ($221,993) and the National Federation of Independent Business ($206,338).