- Salem lobbyist as represented by Jess Hirsch
A mere two months after the legislative session wrapped up, we are able to learn how much was spent to lobby our representatives. The Oregon Government Ethics Commissioned released the reports yesterday that lay out the amount of money groups spent on lobbying the legislature... though not what exactly they spend it on. We dug into lobbyist spending back in June, but finally the numbers are out detailing spending during the second half of the session.
The two month time lag on tabulating Oregon's lobbying numbers points to a lack of tight oversight of lobbyists in this state. Only two state employees are tasked with keeping track of the hundreds of lobbyists and millions of dollars thrown at influencing state politicians every year. While many eyes are focused on what big name lobbyists do at a national level, few people seem to be keeping close tabs on who is spending money on our politicians close to home. When I called the Oregon Government Ethics commission yesterday to ask why the reports were released so late (they were originally aiming to post the numbers by August 21st), program analyst Virginia Lutz informed me that I was the only person who had called to inquire about the lobbying data—well, except for Lexis Nexis, who wanted the numbers for their archives.
That's troubling because according to Salem senators, legislators and staffers we spoke with last spring, lobbyists have enormous power in the legislature. They know the lawmaking process better than some junior politicians and are ready with facts and research about bills that affect their clients. Despite the devilish illustration above, some lobbyists are amazing, public-interest minded advocates for important causes. But the state, political organizations and Oregon media should be be monitoring all of them more closely.
So what do the numbers show? Groups spent $18, 159, 605 lobbying the Oregon legislature during its six-month session. Excepting the governor's office and League of Oregon Cities, which have to record most of their staff salaries and business as lobbying, the top 10 most-spendy lobbying groups of 2009 include a consumer-owned electric company, a private corporation,
six four unions, one health care provider and one shady political action group called "Citizens for Fire Safety Institute."
Keep reading to find out more about who has been spending money to sway your representatives.
The Citizens for Fire Safety Institute actually spent more money lobbying the legislature than any other group, including the Governor's office, shelling out $468, 269 since January. On their website, Citizens for Fire Safety describes themselves as "a coalition of fire professionals, educators, community activists, burn centers, doctors, fire departments and industry leaders, united to ensure that our country is protected by the highest standards of fire safety."
But other groups describe them much less kindly. The Environmental Health Fund put out an alarming little report saying that Citizens for Fire Safety is actually a front for a group of chemical manufacturers who spend millions nationwide to keep states from banning the potentially toxic flame retardants they peddle.
When we surveyed Salem legislative staffers about lobbyists back in the spring, Citizens for Fire Safety lobbyist Dave Barrows scored a four out of seven for "public interest." One insider criticized Barrows for writing "hit pieces on the ban on a carcinogenic flame retardant" and another noted that Barrows had "lost credit after becoming a typical contract lobbyist."
"That's not true," said Barrows about the alleged hit pieces at the time . "I did represent those folks, but I did not write the hit pieces—in fact the lobby team thought it wasn't a good idea to mail them out."
Here are the 12 groups that spent the most to lobby in Salem this year.
Associated General Contractors spent $163,173.30
Regence Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Oregon spent $164,177.00
Verizon spent $167,391.50
Oregon Association of Hospitals & Health Systems spent $189,711.00
Oregon AFSCME Cncl 75 spent $195,866.62
Special Districts Association of Oregon spent $200,412.04
Oregon School Boards Assn spent $219,633.65
Oregon Education Assn spent $239,926.70
Umatilla Electric Cooperative, Inc spent $252,673.11
League of Oregon Cities spent $256,237.93
Office of the Governor spent $423,004.00
Citizens for Fire Safety Institute spent $468,269.00