Beacon Hill’s army of influence
special interests spent more than $67 million last year lobbying on Beacon Hill, the equivalent of about $335,000 per lawmaker, according to state records.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association was the top spender at $964,000, followed closely by Partners HealthCare at $913,000. There was a sharp drop-off in spending after the top two, but the group of top 20 spenders consisted primarily of teachers’ unions, business groups, and firms involved with health care and education.
Despite the high-profile push for the approval of casino gambling last year, no would-be casino operator cracked the top 20. The closest was KG Urban Advisors, a developer seeking to build a casino in New Bedford. KG came in at No. 22, spending $289,000 on lobbying. Several other casino interests followed close behind, including Development Associates LLC ($285,000), which wants to put up a casino in Foxborough; the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe ($278,000), which wants to build in Taunton; and Sterling Suffolk Racecourse LLC ($257,000), the company behind a proposal for Suffolk Downs in East Boston.
The 136 top lobbyists, those who reported earning more than $100,000 in lobbying fees, tend to be contract lobbyists. They accounted for just under 9 percent of all registered lobbyists but collected 41 percent of all the money spent on lobbying. About 10 percent of all registered lobbyists reported earning between $50,000 and $100,000, 65 percent earned less than $50,000, and 17 percent earned nothing at all, meaning they registered but didn’t end up doing any lobbying.
Robert Rodophele, of Ferriter Scobbo & Rodophele, was the highest-paid lobbyist last year. He reported earning nearly $663,000 in lobbying fees. His two biggest clients were the Alliance of American Automobile Manufacturers ($96,000) and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co ($79,300).
State law defines lobbying as any effort “to promote, oppose, influence, or attempt to influence” officials in the executive and legislative branches concerning legislation or standards, rates, and rules. The definition also includes strategizing, planning, and research in conjunction with efforts to influence officials.
Lobbying activities are self-reported, which can sometimes lead to problems. Richard Vitale, a close friend and financial advisor to former House speaker Sal DiMasi, didn’t register as a lobbyist in 2006 when he accepted payments to help a group of ticket brokers attempt to eliminate the state’s cap on the price of resold tickets. But last year, after Vitale’s relationship with the ticket brokers was disclosed in the press, he was charged with failing to register as a lobbyist. He was sentenced to two years probation and required to pay $92,000 in fines.
The College of the Holy Cross initially reported that it paid its president, Michael McFarland, $646,000 in lobbying fees last year, plus another $141,000 to two other employees. In its filings, the college did not list any activities McFarland performed or bills on which he lobbied. After inquiries from CommonWealth, the college lowered McFarland’s lobbying compensation for 2011 to $338,000, making him the 15th highest-paid lobbyist. A college official says the earlier payment information was based on a misunderstanding of lobbying disclosure rules. McFarland stepped down in January of this year.Companies seeking to influence Beacon Hill typically hire individual lobbyists themselves or retain firms that do lobbying along with other services, including legal, consulting, polling, or public relations work. The lobbying fees paid to the firms are often passed straight through to the individual lobbyists the firm retains, but sometimes a significant portion of the lobbying fees is retained by the firm as profit or to cover overhead.
O’Neill & Associates reported receiving just over $2 million in lobbying fees during 2011 and paying all but $404 of that to a fleet of individual lobbyists. By contrast, Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications reported receiving a total of $1.6 million in lobbying fees and paying out only $297,000 to individual lobbyists, retaining $1.3 million for profit and overhead.