Political Pulse: Losers and winners lobbying the Legislature

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Last week’s story about how lobbyists flocked to the Republican overhaul of the state’s insurance laws showed how various stakeholder attempted to influence the legislation.

But the data used in that report also contained some revealing information about other bills and initiatives.

Take this one: Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios, a firm hired by the Maine Turnpike Authority, spent $15,153 in one month lobbying lawmakers and preparing testimony responding to a watchdog report by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability. The report ultimately led to several changes in the quasi-governmental agency, including ending the MTA’s practice of hiring outside lobbyists.

The changes were pursued by the Legislature’s Government Oversight committee.

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Initially, the MTA resisted lawmakers’ calls to stop hiring lobbyists. During one hearing, Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldaboro, one of the most dogged critics of the MTA, said he’d been besieged by outside advocates who urged him to back off.

“Call the dogs off,” Trahan told MTA officials. “You don’t need to lobby this (OPEGA) report like a bill in the Legislature.”

The MTA in February announced that it was no longer paying outside advocates. But as previously reported in the Sun Journal, the agency racked up $38,178 in lobbying fees before the practice was instituted.

It’s not clear precisely how much of that money went toward lobbying the OPEGA report. State law requires lobbyists to disclose expenditures for specific legislation only if they spend more than $1,000 in one month while working for one organization.

According to staff at Maine’s Commission on Governmental Ethics & Election Practices, exceeding the $1,000 limit in one month is fairly difficult. It’s happened 242 times so far this session.

The MTA met the $1,000 threshold three times lobbying the OPEGA report with expenditures reaching $23,777.

So far, the MTA’s $15,153 one-month expenditure is the most by any lobbying organization this session. Given the oversight committees’s persistent pursuit of reforms at the agency — a populist if not political pursuit — it appears that money hasn’t bought much influence. 

Here’s a quick look at other organizations leading the single-month expenditures:

* Miller Hydro Group, which operates the Worumbo hydroelectric dam on the Androscoggin River in Lisbon Falls, has paid lobbyists $16,715 so far this session. According to disclosure documents, all of that money went toward opposing a bill that would have created a higher water quality standard on the Androscoggin.

The company’s lobbyist spent $11,350 in March, the second highest single-month expenditure this session.

The bill died in committee after compromise efforts failed.

* The Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs spent $10,704 in March advocating against Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to use money from the Fund for a Healthy Maine to balance the budget. The program, used to curb teen smoking and economic development, is funded by the state’s cigarette tax.

It’s not yet clear if LePage’s plan to tap the fund will remain in the budget.

* The lobbyist for the Lafayette Ocean Resort spent $10,000 in March advocating for a bill that amends the state’s sand dune law so that the company can proceed with plans to build a $2 million resort in Wells. The company has paid lobbyists $25,000 this session.

An amended version of the bill was signed into law earlier this month.

* The Maine Wellness Association, an insurance producer, spent $9,299 advocating for a bill that loosens the state’s captive insurance laws.

The bill died, but its language was added to LD 1333, the GOP insurance overhaul.

* Southsong LLC is a self-described real estate company with an interest in “safeguarding the Second Amendment right to bear arms,” according to lobbying registration documents. Southsong, which has a Texas mailing address, was also interested in LD 523, a bill to allow fireworks to be sold in Maine.

Southsong’s lobbyist spent $8,912 in March and $6,870 in April advocating for the legislation.

An amended version of the bill awaits a preliminary vote in the House.

smistler@sunjournal.com

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