Lobbyists earn $8 million last session for efforts to influence state legislators

Posted: Tuesday, September 09, 2003

ANCHORAGE - More than 200 lobbyists were paid a total of more than $8 million to influence state lawmakers last legislative session, according to new state reports.

Reports next year will show far fewer lobbyists, and not because there will be fewer people glad-handing lawmakers in Capitol halls and offices.

Under a new state law, many people who work to influence the Legislature will no longer have to register as lobbyists or be subject to the associated restrictions on campaign giving and fund raising.

Tammy Kempton, who handles state lobbyist regulation for the Alaska Public Offices Commission, estimates at least half, and up to three-quarters, of the Capitol's part-time lobbyists will not have to register for disclosure next year.

Such part-time or "employee" lobbyists make up more than half of the Capitol's 200-strong lobbyist corps. They tend to be people who lobby on behalf of the business they own or work for, often traveling to Juneau for part of the legislative session. Others are paid representatives or employees of advocacy groups.

The second-biggest category of lobbyists is the "professionals," the elite who take on multiple clients.

They have to register with the state and file disclosure forms even under the new law, which the Legislature passed this spring.

David Finkelstein, a former state representative from Anchorage and a critic of the new law, said even part-time lobbyists should be required to register and face restrictions on campaign giving and fund raising.

"Generally speaking, my experience with most of these folks is that they are corporate lobbyists. ... I think my view and I think the public's view is they ought to be covered," Finkelstein said.

"We ought to know how much is being spent and how much effort is going into these lobbyist campaigns."

Finkelstein is helping to push a ballot initiative that seeks to largely roll back the Republican-controlled Legislature's loosening of the state lobbyist law.

Under the old rules, anyone who lobbied four hours or more in a month had to register. Only time spent in "direct communication" seeking to influence a legislator or other public official - meaning in face-to-face or telephone conversation, or e-mailing - counted against the four-hour limit.

The Legislature, at the urging of the Alaska Chamber of Commerce, changed the limit to 40 hours in a month. Also, people whose official job title includes being a lobbyist must register.

The chamber, a business group, argued that too many small-business people were being required to register as lobbyists for exercising their right to talk with state lawmakers.

"It made lobbyists out of people who never intended to be lobbyists," said Pamela Labolle, chamber president. She said many people registered "just to be on the safe side" because it was so easy to slip over the four-hour limit. The requirement was unreasonable, she said.

A look through the eight-page list of part-time lobbyists who might be able to avoid registering as lobbyists next year showed few people who appeared to be from mom-and-pop-type businesses, an impression confirmed by Kempton of the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Many were from big businesses, including Exxon Mobil, Allstate Insurance Co., Usibelli Coal Mine and the Anchorage construction giant Veco.

Many others lobbied on behalf of advocacy groups such as the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the Disability Law Center of Alaska.

Such part-time lobbyists did not account for much of the flow of dollars that went to influencing lawmakers last session. The part-timers reported collecting a total of $1.2 million in salary and expenses on the midyear lobbyist reports, which includes the entire session.

That compares with the overall figures of $8.6 million in salaries and $838,000 in expenses for all Capitol lobbyists.

The big money went to the professionals, who under the new law will still have to register and abide by the limits on campaign contributions and fund raising.

The largest amount listed on the state report went to Legislative Consultants, a firm that reported collecting $790,047 in lobbyist fees and expenses for the first half of the year alone. The lobbyists for the firm are former state House Speaker Joe Hayes, and Wendy Mulder, wife of ex-lawmaker Eldon Mulder, according to the state.

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