LANSING -- It appears that the recession has ended, at least for Lansing lobbyists. They reported spending $19,664,879 in the first seven months of 2011. That figure is up by 11.6 percent compared to the first seven months of 2010, and it exceeds the spending pace of 2008, the record year for lobbying in Lansing, when reported spending totaled $19,599,000 in the January-through-July reporting period.
StudentsFirst, a California and D.C.-based ‘education reform’ organization, accounted for nearly half the spending increase and led all lobbyists' spending at $951,000. Its spending included a $900,000 advertising campaign.
StudentsFirst recently made headlines in Michigan by hiring Rep. Tim Melton as a lobbyist. Melton is prohibited from lobbying his former legislative colleagues until December 31, 2012, when his Michigan House term would have expired.
Familiar names of multi-client lobbying firms occupy the next four spots on the spending list: Governmental Consultant Services, Inc (GCSI): $774,814; Kelley Cawthorne: $709,897; Karoub Associates: $460,454; and Wiener Associates: $326,644.
The Michigan Education Association, $324,197, and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, $266,788, were the top spenders among individual Michigan-based interest groups.
Conspicuously absent from lobbying reports was any filing from the Detroit International Bridge Company. The DIBC has sponsored a seven-figure television advertising campaign of grassroots lobbying in opposition to the proposed New International Trade Crossing.
The Michigan Campaign Finance Network will report on the Detroit International Bridge Company’s campaign later this month.
Wining and Dining
Lobbyists reported spending $526,753 for food and beverages for lobbyable officials in the first seven months of 2011. Leading providers of consumable hospitality were: Kelley Cawthorne: $86,372; AT&T of Michigan, reporting under the name of Michigan Bell Telephone: $51,736; GCSI: $25,823; Michigan Licensed Beverage Association: $24,222; and Public Affairs Associates: $20,492.
Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville was the top beneficiary of the food and beverage hospitality, enjoying $2,985 worth of food and libations. That is more than $47 per day when the Senate was in session.
The leading member of the Free Lunch Club in the House was freshman Rep. Frank Foster of Pellston at $2,814. Nine more legislators enjoyed at least $1,000 in complimentary repast: Sen. Joe Hune: $1,903; Sen. Rebekah Warren: $1,801; Sen. Tory Rocca: $1,585; Rep. Harold Haugh: $1,562; former Rep. Tim Melton: $1,419; Rep. Aric Nesbitt: $1,280; Sen Mike Kowall: $1,099; Rep. Matt Huuki: $1,095; and Sen. Steve Bieda: $1,013.
It should be noted that lobbyists’ spending on food and drink doesn’t have to be reported unless it exceeds $55 in a month for a lobbyable official, or accumulates to more than $350 for the reporting period. Thus, there was certainly more food and drink consumed that did not have to be reported.
Travel and lodging provided by lobbyists does not have to be reported unless it exceeds $725. Financial transactions between lobbyists and lobbyable officials don’t have to be reported unless they exceed $1,100 in value.
“Lobbying disclosure in Michigan is pathetically weak,” said Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. “A lobbyable official could sell a lobbyist a pencil for $1,000, and the State doesn’t even want to know about it.”
“Given the hardships the citizens of this state are enduring, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that they should know about every perquisite given to their elected representatives.”
All data cited in this report are from lobbying reports filed with the Michigan Department of State.