Interest Groups' Lobbying Tally Tops $500M

By Daniels, Melissa | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 4, 2014 | Go to article overview

Interest Groups' Lobbying Tally Tops $500M


Daniels, Melissa, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


HARRISBURG -- Lobbyists wearing suits and gripping cellphones line the Capitol's ornate rotunda balcony, crowd into committee meetings and orbit at the foot of the marble staircase between the House and Senate chambers.

The time of budget negotiations is peak season for the $500 million business of government influence.

In 2013, lobbyists spent $518 million on costs related to influencing Pennsylvania's lawmakers. It's the first time spending exceeded the half-billion-dollar mark, according to Department of State filings.

Spending was $450 million in 2007, the year rules began requiring lobbyists to disclose expenses, then dipped to $417 million in 2010.

Experts attribute the record high to rising costs across the board, improved reporting and the trickle-down effect that federal laws such as the Affordable Care Act have on state government.

To Dave Patti, a longtime lobbyist and executive director of the Pennsylvania Business Council, money is the means, but relationships are what count.

"There's a lot that goes into this, a lot of rules of the game, before you get to the money," he said. "Woody Allen said showing up is 90 percent of success, and that's why all of us are up there today."

Though lobbying sometimes carries a stigma of back-room deal- making, the First Amendment Center says lobbying is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. Pennsylvania defines lobbying as "an effort to influence legislative action or administrative action."

Reported expenditures cover salaries, travel expenses, public outreach and wining and dining of lawmakers. Lobbyists self-report quarterly, and they categorize expenses by topic. The lobbying categories with the five highest expenditures each year typically are health care, energy, education, Medicaid and Medicare, and taxation. Figures for each range from $14 million to $30 million.

Lobbies exist for more than 100 special interests, according to the self-reported classifications. Issues include banking, gambling, crime victim assistance, tobacco, firearms and the elderly.

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer rights group, and an expert on governmental ethics, said statehouse lobbying spending is on the rise.

"We know money buys influence, and the industries are responding that way," he said, pointing to health care lobbying as an example, in part because of Obamacare.

Spending on health care lobbying in Pennsylvania increased from $27.8 million in 2007 to $31 million in 2013.

Spending might increase when a state-specific issue becomes a hot topic. Last year, when the Legislature debated liquor store privatization, reported lobbying spending reached $5.2 million, up from between $2 million and $3 million in past years. …

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