Lobbyists' spending hit record $37.1M in 2012
But lobbyists' reports conceal as much as they reveal
LANSING - Lansing lobbyists reported record spending in 2012 of $37.14 million. That amount is up by 4.8 percent compared to $35.44 million reported in 2011.
"The greatest value of these reports is that they tell us just how much we don't know about lobbying activity in Lansing," said Rich Robinson of the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
The top spenders among lobbying entities are multi-client firms who disclose overall spending and their client lists, but they are not required to report their lobbying contracts or how much they spend representing each of their clients.
The Michigan Campaign Finance Network annually compiles a list of the top 200 spenders on lobbying in Michigan. Thirteen of the top 20 are multi-client shops who accounted for more than $7 million in lobbying expenditures. There are no data available to discern how that $7 million was deployed, or whose interests it advocated.
A list of the top 200 Michigan lobbyists in 2012 is attached to this news release.
Dearth of information on perks for public officials
Lobbyists reported spending $649,000 to provide food, drink, travel and accommodations for public officials in 2012. Less than one-third of that amount - $193,796 - is connected to a named beneficiary. That is because lobbying expenditures that provide hospitality for public officials don't have to be itemized unless they exceed reporting thresholds. Here are the reporting thresholds that were in effect for 2012:
• Lobbyists didn't have to name beneficiaries of their wining and dining unless their spending for an individual lobbyable official exceeded $57 in a month, or $350 for the calendar year.
• Travel and accommodations didn't have to be reported unless they exceeded $750 per instance of travel.
• Gifts are banned, but tickets for entertainment valued at less than $57 aren't considered to be gifts and, therefore, are allowed, though not reported.
• Financial transactions between lobbyists and lobbyable officials, such as personal loans or sales of personal property, didn't have to be reported unless they were valued at more than $1,150.
Since expenditures to provide food and drink to groups of lobbyable officials, mainly legislators, amounted to $125,816 of the itemized expenditures, the failure to identify beneficiaries is much greater than gross figures suggest. Subtracting the $126,000 for group food from reported overall spending of $649,000, means that $523,000 was spent to entertain individuals. Just $68,000 of the $523,000 spent on individuals is tied to individual beneficiaries. That means 87 percent of all that was spent to entertain individual lobbyable officials apparently didn't reach the reporting thresholds.
Despite the very limited reporting of beneficiaries, 14 legislators managed to consume more than $1,000 worth of reported lobbyists' hospitality. They are listed as members of the 2012 Silver Spoons Supper Club, attached to this news release.
Getting serious about lobbying disclosure
Michigan's inadequate lobbying disclosure needs to be modernized. Here are a few essential reforms:
• Multi-client firms should report all contracts, naming the client and the amount of each contract.
• All food and beverage hospitality provided by a lobbyist to a lobbyable official should be reported from the first dollar spent.
• All travel and accommodations provided by a lobbyist to a lobbyable official should be reported from the first dollar spent.
• All entertainment gifts for lobbyable officials should be prohibited. Gifts should be limited to plaques, or the like, given in recognition of service.
• Any financial transactions between a lobbyist and a lobbyable official, or a lobbyable official's family member, should be reported from the first dollar.
Total Michigan Lobbyists' Spending, 2001-2012
• 2012: $37,141,823
• 2011: $35,438,378
• 2010: $31,825,642
• 2009: $32,139,477
• 2008: $34,278,459
• 2007: $32,175,110
• 2006: $30,209,594
• 2005: $29,651,597
• 2004: $26,103,954
• 2003: $25,554,880
• 2002: $22,095,825
• 2001: $18,459,254