Democracy Tree: State politicians wined and dined by lobbyists

Amy Kerr HardinThis year’s first SNAP Report from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network is a who’s-who of Lansing lawmakers. Lobbyists fed Michigan’s elected officials like so much foie gras destined for the butcher — once again stuffing their gullets full of food and spirits to buy their allegiance. They shelled out more than $21 million in the first seven months of the year, with much of it spent on proffered delights and delectables, and precious little of it itemized.

Bean King-Jacob Jordaens

Detail, The Bean King, J. Jordaens c. 1640


Rich Robinson, Director of MCFN, compiled the data from the Michigan Department of State, finding that lobbyist spending is up slightly from the same period last year. Lobbyist dollars — the other form of “dark money,” are not easily tracked due to poor disclosure requirements. Many of the biggest players are multi-client firms who spread their entitlements just thinly enough that they safely skulk below the reporting thresholds for particular categories.

Hey, Big Spender!

The top ten firms, all multi-client, reported dolling-out considerable sums to influence Michigan officials in the first half of 2015. Little of it was itemized as to the beneficiary.

� Governmental Consultant Services Inc. – $947,832;
� James H. Karoub Associates – $734,014;
� Kelley Cawthorne – $540,293;
� RWC Advocacy (formerly Wiener Associates) – $389,789;
� Michigan Health and Hospital Association – $327,109;
� Public Affairs Associates – $325,106;
� Midwest Strategy Group of MI – $309,141;
� Muchmore Harrington Smalley Associates – $301,908;
� Kandler Reed Khoury and Muchmore – $238,675;
� Michigan Credit Union League – $211,587

Supplemental Nutritional Assistance for Politicians

The law requires lobbyists to report certain specifics of their bankrolling of elected officials, but in total, only $538,625 was divulged for travel, accommodations, and consumables. Of that, $112,000 went to food and beverages at group events, leaving $426,000 going directly to individuals — however, only 16 percent of that amount was connected to any named person.

Few received enough dough from any one given firm to be reported in their name, but of those identified, it was a bipartisan feast:

SNAP 2015

Robinson believes important steps should be taken to improve transparency in lobbyist spending. He suggests:

“Reporting by lobbyists could be made much more meaningful if multi-client lobbyists were required to report how much they spend representing each of their clients. State regulation requires only that multi-client firms report their overall spending and their roster of clients, but they do not have to report their spending as it relates to each respective client.”

The campaign finance watchdog further recommends that reporting thresholds should be “rolled back to zero”, and that reports should also indicate what policies, budgets, and pieces of legislation the lobbyists were advocating.

Leave a Comment