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Groups spent $6.1 million trying to woo lawmakers in 2013 session

HELENA — Corporations, trade associations, unions and advocacy groups spent nearly $6.1 million trying to influence the 2013 Legislature, according to financial reports filed with the state political practices commissioner’s office.

That’s the equivalent of about $40,500 spent per lawmaker in the 150-member body.

Total spending by “principals” — the businesses, unions and others that hire lobbyists — rose to $6.086 million for the 2013 session. That’s more than the $5.7 million reported spent in 2011 and $5.962 million in 2009.

The last time the total spending on lobbying hit $6 million was in 2007, but it also included a five-day special session that closely followed the regular session.

Under state law, those hiring lobbyists, using their own staffs, or both, must file regular reports with the political practices commissioner’s office detailing how much they spent.

Expenses are broken down into such categories as lobbyist pay, other pay, travel, advertising, entertainment, communications, postage and other office expenses.

For the 2013, which adjourned April 24, 433 principals and 425 lobbyists registered with the political practices office.

The top spender for the Legislature at $160,356 was Compassion and Choices, a nonprofit group that advocates for physician-assisted suicide.

MEA-MFT, the union representing teachers and public employees, was second, with $120,319.

Third was the Montana Association of Realtors, which spent $113,488, followed by CSC Holdings LLC, or Cablevision, owner of Optimum, a cable television company, $110,000.

Others in the top 10 were: 5. AT&T Services, $107,787; 6. PPL Montana LLC, $105,605; 7. Montana Association of Counties, $104,258; 8. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana, $102,542; 9. Altria Client Services Inc. and its Affiliates (formerly Philip Morris tobacco company), $89,781; and 10. MATL LLP, or Montana Alberta Tie Limited, which is building an electrical transmission line between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alberta, $76,000.

In 2011, Montana Life and Health Insurance Guaranty Association topped the spending, while PPL Montana led the list in 2009 and 2007.

Emily Bentley, campaign manager in Montana for Compassion & Choices, said the group increased its spending in 2013. It spent the third most of any principal in 2011.

“We definitely spent more this session than in the previous session,” she said Tuesday. “Our doctors were under attack for providing quality end-of-life care.”

She said the group is part of a national association and had four consultants in Montana during the session working “to improve choice and care at the end of life in Montana.”

She said the group polled and found that 73 percent of Montanans opposed what it called the “physician imprisonment act.” That was House Bill 505, an unsuccessful bill by Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel, that sought to clarify the offense of aiding or soliciting suicide.

Compassion & Choices then mounted a $33,300 public education campaign, with print and radio ads, “to make sure people knew aid in dying was legal in Montana.”

“We’re pretty proud of it,” Bentley said. “It reached volunteers. They became involved and called their legislators.”

MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver, said he wasn’t surprised the union ranked high on what it spent trying to influence the Legislature.

“We had a lot of issues in the session,” Feaver said. “We spent a lot of resources as well to get a pay plan passed, to fix our retirement system, to fund our public schools and defeat school privatization bills.”

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Feaver said the hallmark of his tenure as MEA-MFT presidency is that “we will spend the time and the energy to do what needs to be done.”

Peggy Trenk, CEO of the Montana Association of Realtors, said the group traditionally spends a lot on its legislative lobbying effort because the real estate industry touches so many issues, including taxes, land use and other areas.

“We use a lot of legal assistance in terms of drafting language for bills, for comments and for amendments,” she said. “We don’t do much in the area of entertainment. We do a reception in January for our members and legislators.”

Local Realtors from across Montana come to that event and seek out the legislators from their local districts at that reception.

The Montana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores Association spent the most on entertainment with $13,962.

CSC Holdings LLC (Cablevision) spent the most on lobbyist pay at $110,000.

Mary Baker, program supervisor for the commissioner of political practices office, said she believes the reports accurately reflect what principals spent to influence the Legislature.

“I think there’s an honest attempt by the majority of principals and lobbyists to report accurately, until proven otherwise,” Baker said.

She said the office has sought appropriations to audit principals’ spending on lobbying, but the Legislature has turned down these requests.

Baker said the office staff conducts a training session early in the Legislature for principals and lobbyists on how to correctly report expenses. That session is generally well attended, she said.

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Managing editor at The Billings Gazette.