WSW: Lobbying Costs Rise, Does Influence Increase Too?

Mar 13, 2017

State Capitol - file photo
Credit Melissa Benmark / WKAR

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network calls 2016 the year of the lobbyist. But the group’s director Craig Mauager says 2017 could top it.

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network found that last year set a new record for money spent on lobbying. Mauger says about $40-million was reported on lobbying last year. He says it’s part of trend, spending on lobbying is up almost 25% over 2010.

The legislature tackled complex issues such as energy reform last session, which had many interested parties. Mauger says that might explain the record amount spent on lobbying last year, but he says the lack of transparency laws in Michigan makes it tough to tell for sure. Mauger says other states require lobbyists to report what bills they are working on and what they are trying to influence.

Mauger says despite a full-time legislature and active lobbying corps, lobbyists only have to file disclosure about what they’re doing twice a year. He says that means there’s often a long delay in when expenditures become known. Mauger says that means that the public often doesn’t know about a lot of spending until an election has taken place.

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network also reported recently on the amount lobbyists spent buying food and drink for lawmakers. It found that 25 lawmakers received $1,000 or more in meals purchased by lobbyists. Mauger says it’s very hard to track the number accurately because lobbyists don’t have to report how much they spend on food and drink for lawmakers unless they exceed $58 a month or $350 a year.

Mauger says it’s not just anybody paying for the meals, it’s people who are getting paid to influence public policy paying for these meals. He says better disclosure would allow the public to judge if it’s buying influence.

Both reports from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network show the cost of lobbying rising. Mauger says that means the ability of the average person to influence public policy is diminishing.