By SIMON D. SCHUSTER
Michigan Campaign Finance Network
LANSING (Sept. 16, 2020) — Lobbyist spending on food and beverages for state officials is near an all-time low since digital records began, according to filings with the Secretary of State.
Lobbyists reported spending $221,429 so far this year on meals, according to data from the Michigan Department of State. The only recorded year with lower spending was in 2001, where they spent $209,202 in the same time period. In 2019, by contrast, that total was $578,262.
While registered lobbyists have to report their total spending taking “lobbyable” officials out for meals, they only have to say who they spent the money on a small portion of the time.
In the first seven months of 2020, less than a quarter of that spending was reported as tied to a specific official, $47,863. However, that figure was lower just six years ago, in 2014. (Report continues after the break.)
Another $58,484 was reported as “group” spending this year. Those descriptions can be as vague as “senators, representatives, staff, public officials,” leaving the reporting requirement largely moot considering there’s no date attached to these disclosures.
Much of the money remains opaque because only particularly pricey meals require disclosure under current rules. This year a lobbyist has to spend more than $63 dollars on a single meal for a state official or more than $400 on them throughout the year before they have to disclose their name. That limit changes yearly and in 1985 it was $25.
It’s another reflection of pandemic’s impact on lobbyist interactions around Lansing — group itemized spending is at a record low, perhaps because social distancing requirements hamper large events — but pricey meals during one-on-one chats haven’t been hit nearly as hard. The same is true for overall lobbyist spending, which includes salaries and other expenses. While that total is $400,000 less than last year, at about $23 million, it’s still nearly $1 million above the next highest year, 2016.
A single lobbying firm, Public Affairs Associates, is responsible for more than $32,000 of the overall spending. Nearly $7,500 was spent on a reception the night of the State of the State address alone.
Among state officials, Rep. Jim Lilly (R-Park Twp.) leads the pack. He reportedly accepted $5,574 in food from 16 different lobbyists (who exceeded the disclosure threshold) during the first seven months of 2020. He is co-chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee. $2,409 of that amount was paid for by a single multi-client lobbying firm, Government Consultant Services, Inc. (GCSI).
The first nine of the top 10 lawmakers accepting free food from lobbyists are Republicans, who hold a majority in the Michigan House of Representatives. While Speaker of the House Rep. Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) has received at least $4,000 in free meals, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clark Lake) only reportedly received $91 dollars in meals above the disclosure threshold.
How many lobbyists bought these lawmakers more affordable meals, however, will remain in the dark. Explore the data here: