Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Lobbying expense report obscures more than it reveals

Charley Shaw//June 20, 2012

Lobbying expense report obscures more than it reveals

Charley Shaw//June 20, 2012

CFPD’s Gary Goldsmith notes, “The figures that we’re giving do not include either money paid to employees for lobbying or money paid to external lobbyists for lobbying, but only the costs associated with that lobbying.” (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Figures don’t include lobbyist compensation

Lobbyist spending reports from this year’s legislative session have been unveiled by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board (CFPD). But a word of caution is warranted in assessing the numbers: They don’t include lobbyists’ salaries. So that leaves government watchers to complain that the spending disclosed — like the $115,000 in costs claimed by the Minnesota Vikings this year — merely reflects the cost of paper clips and phone bills while the real meat of spending on lobbying goes untold.

In the words of Gary Goldsmith, the executive director of the CFPD, “The figures that we’re giving do not include either money paid to employees for lobbying or money paid to external lobbyists for lobbying, but only the costs associated with that lobbying.”

The law irks long-time campaign finance critics like Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville. While some disclosure reports note large dollar figures, like those from the Minnesota Vikings and the elite businesses and trade associations, the portrait that emerges only obscures the real magnitude of the money involved; many lobbyists report only a small amount for communications costs or materials distributed at hearings.

“I wouldn’t want to say what we’re doing now is worthless and let’s stop collecting,” Marty said. “But they’ll attribute $132 for subscriptions or postage. You have no way of knowing how heavily they’re [spending].”

The lobbyists’ spending reports for the session that concluded in May were due on June 15 and hit the CFPD’s website on Monday morning. The Vikings drew the most attention, having successfully concluded a decade’s pursuit of public subsidies to build a new stadium.
With the Vikings lobbyists, as with many other outfits, a certain individual, known as a “designated” lobbyist, reports the company’s spending. In the case of the Vikings, their lead in-house lobbyist, Lester Bagley, reported his organization’s expenses. Bagley’s reported expense tally was $105,358 for the session. That figure includes $54,000 for support staff and $44,400 for communications.

Lobbyist principals are required to disclose all their spending, including compensation, after the year is over. Those reports will be due next March, Goldsmith said. The principals’ reports are an approximation, however. The money is reported as a lump-sum figure and rounded to the nearest $20,000.

“You’ll get more information from that,” Marty said. “Why they don’t do it instantaneously, and with the way these businesses are computer wired, they could tell you tomorrow what they spent today. Not getting it till next March means there might be a little news blurb, but the issues are long past by then. It’s not meaningless disclosure. But that’s the type of weaknesses [the reports] have.”

Marty won the passage of major campaign finance restrictions in the late 1980s. Included in the legislation — remembered, not always fondly, as the John Marty laws — was a gift ban for legislators that is still on the books.

Campaign finance reformers usually get the most traction in the wake of a scandal. That opportunity most recently hit at the national level when Jack Abramoff in 2006 was convicted of bribery. At that time, Marty and some other DFL legislators tried to raise the issue of lobbyist disclosure, but the Abramoff case didn’t give reformers in Minnesota the necessary traction to get their bills enacted. A lobbyist at the time told Capitol Report: “The principals report what they expend. I report what I expend. I think what they pay me, frankly, is irrelevant.”

This year’s reports are a reminder of the array of interests that had major business in St. Paul this year.

The stadium and several other issues gave business lobbyists a prominent role in the session. Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, reported $103,000 in legislative lobbying expenses for the session. Weaver also reported spending $139,000 in lobbying expenses for an allied group the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses. David Olson, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, reported spending $312,000 in legislative lobbying and $103,500 on influencing administrative action. Those numbers account for the actions of a roster of lobbyists that work for the chamber and the partnership.

In addition to the stadium debate, business lobbyists featured prominently in tussles over the horse racing business and the state’s Indian tribes.

John Apitz, of the lobbying firm Messerli & Kramer, spent $120,600 lobbying the Legislature for the Canterbury Park race track. For years the track was connected with the ultimately unsuccessful push to get lawmakers to allow slot machines at horse racing tracks to finance the Vikings stadium. Canterbury’s lobbying-related spending will likely decline now due to the financial arrangement they made with the Shakopee Mdwankanton Sioux Community, in which Canterbury officials pledged not to pursue a racino any longer at the Capitol.

On the other side of the issue, the perennial lobbying heavyweight Minnesota Indian Gaming Association spent $241,000, according to the report of principal lobbyist Andy Kozak.

Minnesota’s health plans dropped some cash in the 2012 session on lobbying. The plans have been grilled in front of a couple of legislative committees due to allegations that HMOs benefited from the state seeking excessive reimbursements from the federal Medicaid program. Kathryn Kmit, the government affairs director for the Minnesota Council of Health Plans, spent $45,000 on legislative lobbying. Barbara Cox, a lobbyist for Health Partners, reported spending $22,800 at the Capitol.

Insurers came into the 2012 session hoping to revive the previous year’s ill-fated run at getting the new Republican majorities in the Legislature to overhaul the state’s tort laws. The Insurance Federation of Minnesota saw passage of several tort changes in the House and Senate. However, they were all vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton. The Insurance Federation’s president and CEO, Bob Johnson, reported spending $126,900 on lobbying.

Among local governments, Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, which is perennially the biggest spender, reported $159,900. The League of Minnesota Cities reported spending $16,000 on legislative lobbying and the Association of Minnesota Counties spent $88,000.
Among big state-based corporations, Xcel Energy’s ever-present lobbying team spent large, with lobbyist Rick Evans reporting $361,000 to influence administrative action and $97,600 on legislative lobbying.

Top News

See All Top News

Legal calendar

Click here to see upcoming Minnesota events

Expert Testimony

See All Expert Testimony