Thursday, February 09, 2006

Being lobbied is a full-time job

The results are in, and the lobbyists have won again.

The only surprise in the Ethics Board's report on lobbying activity in 2005 is that people -- well, corporations mostly -- are willing to waste such vast sums of money on a legislature that did almost nothing besides pass a state budget.

The number of hours spent on lobbying defies belief. Methinks there must have been some creative billing going on.

Consider that there are only 132 state legislators. And then look at the numbers:

-- 50,000 hours spent lobbying on the state budget. That's 378 hours per legislator.

-- 753 registered lobbyists. Each legislator can have five of his/her own.

-- $30.6-million spent on lobbying. That's $231,000 per legislator. Wouldn't it have been a lot cheaper just to pay them each $100,000?

-- 264,552 total hours spent on lobbying. That translates to just about 2,000 hours per legislator. Consider that someone who works 40 hours a week, with no vacation, will work 2080 hours a year. That's the equivalent of one full-time lobbyist for every lawmaker.

Of course, these numbers do not all reflect face-to-face lobbying with legislators. It's a good thing, or legislators would have no time left to do anything but be lobbied.

They're just numbers supplied to the Ethics Board, estimates in many cases, of how much time and money was spent to lobby. Those billable hours -- when a lobbyist is billing a client -- include every minute the lobbyist spends thinking, meeting, or talking about the bill, whether in meetings, on the phone, in the car, on the elevator, or on the toilet.

But the numbers are staggering nonetheless.

It's interesting that some of the items which were the most heavily lobbied did not become law.

The most-lobbied bill was the fight between papermakers and insurance companies over who should pay for the cleanup of contaminated Fox Valley-area waterways, which accounted for 5,404 hours on both sides.

The second most-lobbied issue, at 2,964 hours, was the concealed weapons bill, which passed but was vetoed by Gov. Jim Doyle.

The third most-lobbied issue, with 2,916 reported hours, was a mandate that ethanol be sold at gas pumps statewide, a battle still going on in the State Senate.

If you think that failing to get a bill passed is bad news for the lobbyists involved, you don't understand the game. It simply means that you will be able to lobby on the same issue, and bill all of those hours, again in the next session. Losing -- unless you get the blame and are fired -- simply guarantees more work.

Years ago, when our firm's political clients included a U.S. Senator, the Assembly Speaker, the attorney general, and the mayors of Madison and Milwaukee, more than one person suggested my partner and I move from politics into lobbying. It no doubt could have been lucrative. But we both agreed there was not enough money in the world to make us spend our time sucking up to state legislators, currying favor, and making them feel even more important than they already do.

Fortunately, there are 753 others willing to fill the void.

It is not fair to lump public interest lobbyists, working for non-profit groups, in with contract lobbyists, the hired guns who will take on most any paying client. Both, of course, are included in these totals. But the numbers are still staggering.


At 5:03 PM, Blogger Christopher Robin said...

Or 20,000 I here that's the going rate for a travel contract.

Getting your software company a no bid contract is even cheaper.

What is the going price for and illegal expansion of gaming in perpetuity?



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