Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How Much Do Lobbyists Pay to Get their Way?

In 2008, corporations spent more than $3 million to hire lobbyists to protect their interests at the Rhode Island State House. While budget deficits, a Medicaid waiver, and public-employee pensions dominate the news, corporate lobbyists are supporting or opposing hundreds of bills that could benefit or damage their companies' bottom lines. And thanks to a loophole in the lobbying disclosure law and a lengthy process for pursuing those who violate reporting laws, lobbyists' activities can be hard for the public to track.

Last year, the insurance industry was the biggest spender on lobbyists, dedicating more than three-quarters of a million dollars to getting its way, according to a Phoenix review of lobbying disclosure reports. In addition, the gambling, banking and finance, hospital, drug, and energy industries each spent more than $250,000 to hire lobbyists, according to the Phoenix compilation.

Notably absent from the list of big spenders, though certainly a force on Smith Hill, is the Rhode Island labor movement. Unions reported spending about $100,000 on lobbying. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer George Nee says union expenses are comparatively low because most unions use staff and members to lobby. Union staff salaries, he explains, "are considerably less" than those of lawyers and corporate staff.

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