By THE MICHIGAN CAMPAIGN FINANCE NETWORK
LANSING (SEPT. 11, 2019) — A small group of key state lawmakers consumed record amounts of lobbyist-funded food and drink over the first seven months of 2019, new disclosures reveal.
Three state House members each benefited from more than $4,000 in lobbyist spending during that time period, according to the disclosures. A review of lobbyists' filings going back to 2009 shows that no lawmaker collected more than $4,000 in free meals and beverages in the first seven months of a year before this year.
The top beneficiary of lobbyist-sponsored wining and dining so far in 2019 has been Rep. Brandt Iden, a Republican from Oshtemo Township who chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. House leadership created the committee for the 2019-2020 session. It’s in charge of vetting bills that have already passed other committees before they go before the full House.
Lobbyists reported spending $5,682 on food and drink for Iden over the first seven months of the year. A single lobbying firm, Governmental Consultant Services Inc., reported spending $2,555 on Iden.
Rep. Jim Lilly, a Republican from Park Township, is vice chair of the Ways and Means Committee. He collected $5,325 in lobbyist-funded food and drink over the first seven months of 2019, according to lobbyists’ disclosures. Governmental Consultant Services Inc. reported spending $2,588 on him.
Speaker Lee Chatfield, a Republican from Levering and the highest ranking member of the House, received $4,142 in free food and drink, the disclosures showed.
To put the new numbers in context, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN) analyzed lobbyists’ filings for the previous 10 years. The most lobbyist-funded food and drink that an individual lawmaker received over the first seven months of a year during the past decade was $3,586. Lobbyists reported spending that much on then-Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville over the first seven months of 2014.
The totals for Iden and Lilly are also larger than other past lawmakers’ amounts of free food for entire years going back to at least 2012, according to the MCFN’s tracking numbers. The most free food and drink a state lawmaker received over a calendar year since 2012 was $5,388, the 2013 total for then-Rep. Frank Foster, a Republican from Pellston.
Iden and other lawmakers have accumulated their larger than normal totals in 2019 despite the fact that the state’s lobby law doesn’t require lobbyists to tie all of their food and drink purchases directly to specific officeholders.
Under the law, lobbyists and interest groups can offer meals and beverages to state officeholders in large groups and report only vague information about who attended the gatherings. Lobbyists and groups disclosed spending $252,236 on food purchases for group events over the first seven months of 2019.
Overall, lobbyists reported spending $517,756 on “food expenses” from January 2019 through July 2019. Lobbyists attributed only $326,933 — or 63 percent of the total — to individual officeholders or groups of officeholders.
So far, 2019 has been a good year for downtown Lansing’s restaurants and bars, at least according to lobbyists’ disclosures.
Total lobbyist spending on food and drink over the first seven months of the year, $517,756, is not a record but it’s up from 2018. Over the first seven months of 2018, lobbyists disclosed spending only $428,533.
Only four times since 2010 has lobbyist spending on food and drink crossed the $500,000 mark for the first seven months of a year. The other three times were 2017 ($540,598), 2015 ($552,524) and 2011 ($526,753). All of those times came in years after elections when new state lawmakers were taking office and lobbyists were getting to know them.
The following is a list of the top 10 food and drink spenders so far in 2019 with multi-client lobbying firms that represent a variety of clients in bold:
1) Public Affairs Associates, $53,364
2) Governmental Consultant Services Inc., $35,513
3) Consumers Energy, $32,268
4) Midwest Strategy Group, $25,173
5) Kelley Cawthorne, $24,775
6) McAlvey, Merchant and Associates, $19,091
7) Michigan Credit Union League, $18,607
8) DTE Energy, $12,759
9) Michigan Legislative Consultants, $12,656
10) Michigan Licensed Beverage Association, $11,656
Sixteen lawmakers benefited from at least $1,000 in lobbyist-funded food and drink over the first seven months of the year, according to lobbyists’ disclosures.
1. Rep. Brandt Iden, Republican from Oshtemo Township, $5,682
2. Rep. Jim Lilly, Republican from Park Township, $5,325
3. Rep. Lee Chatfield, Republican from Levering, $4,142
4. Rep. Mike Webber, Republican from Rochester, $2,368
5. Sen. Curt VanderWall, Republican from Ludington, $2,002
6. Rep. Jason Wentworth, Republican from Clare, $1,892
7. Rep. Pauline Wendzel, Republican from Watervliet, $1,825
8. Rep. Jason Sheppard, Republican from Temperance, $1,813
9. Rep. Rebekah Warren, Democrat from Ann Arbor, $1,613
10. Sen. Wayne Schmidt, Republican from Traverse City, $1,400
11. Rep. Matt Hall, Republican from Marshall, $1,350
12. Rep. Sara Cambensy, Democrat from Marquette, $1,333
13. Sen. Jeremy Moss, Democrat from Southfield, $1,175
14. Rep. Mary Whiteford, Republican from Casco Township, $1,134
15. Sen. Peter MacGregor, Republican from Rockford, $1,100
16. Rep. Terry Sabo, Democrat from Muskegon, $1,003
Lobbyists didn’t report buying any meals or drinks for 24 of the state’s 148 lawmakers. Six of them are senators. Eighteen of them are House members. They are included on the spreadsheet with “$0” by their names.