This story originally published July 9, 2010
Editor’s Note: This story appears today as part of the PA Independent’s Year in Review series. This week, we will re-post several of our top stories from 2010. The article below was originally published on July 9, 2010.
Pennsylvania has led all states in the nation for seven consecutive years in spending money on lobbyists in Washington D.C., and few others even come close.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which gathered information from lobbying disclosure reports filed in the nation’s capitol, Pennsylvania spent a total of $7.4 million of taxpayer money on lobbyists since 2003. Prior to 2003, when Gov. Ed Rendell took office, the Commonwealth itself spent no money on lobbyists in Washington, although the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the Higher Education Assistance Agency did.
Since 2003, no state has spent more than $400,000 in a single year on lobbying efforts in Washington, except for Pennsylvania, which has spent an average of slightly more than $1 million per year during the same period.
The amount spent by the state for lobbying has increased almost annually since, eclipsing $1 million in 2006 and hitting a high water mark of $1.09 million in 2008 before declining slightly in 2009. During the first quarter of 2010, Pennsylvania spent $270,000 on lobbyists, putting the state on pace to spend more than $1 million again this year.
“There is an intellectual disconnect between states and cities that are essentially broke and are at the same time lobbying a governmental entity,” said Dave Levinthal, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ended fiscal year 2008-2009 with a deficit exceeding $3 billion and closed the books on fiscal year 2009-2010 with a $1.2 billion deficit.
“The other side of the argument is that you’ve got to be competitive and unless you’re aggressive and spend some money up front you negate your ability to bring home what could be comparative riches from the federal government,” said Mr. Levinthal.
“The federal government already has 21 lobbyists for the citizens of Pennsylvania, the 19 representatives and two senators provided for by law. It’s their job to represent the interests of the people of Pennsylvania,” said Barry Kaufman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, a non-profit citizens’ lobbying organization.
“It points out the sad state of our system where we have to hire lobbyists because the elected officials aren’t doing their job,” said Mr. Kaufman.
Asked on Thursday if he thought the money spent by his administration had been beneficial for the state, Mr. Rendell said it was.
“We’ve done awesome in getting funds from Washington both under the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration,” said Mr. Rendell, who also questioned the validity of the information in the report, which was compiled from the federal government’s Lobbying Disclosure Database.
There are several connections between current and former Pennsylvania politicians and the lobbyists hired by the state.
Since 2003, nearly all the state’s lobbyist spending has been channeled into three firms: American Continental Group, Blank Rome LLP, and Borski Associates.
David Urban, a lobbyist with American Continental who has received payments from the state, is a former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Penn.). Mark Holman, currently a lobbyist with Blank Rome LLP, was Tom Ridge’s chief of staff from 1983-1991, when Mr. Ridge was a Congressman, prior to being elected governor of Pennsylvania.
But while Pennsylvania leads all other states in lobbying efforts, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, is the governmental entity which has spent the most money on lobbying in Washington D.C. each of the past ten years.
Local governments can be heavy hitters in the lobbying game too.
According to the reports compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, Miami-Dade County in Florida, Los Angeles County in California, and Riverside County in California joined Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico in the top five in state and local government lobbying spending in 2009 and again in the first quarter of 2010.
Mr. Levinthal said spending on lobbying on the part of state and local governments has increased across the board in recent years, as federal subsidy programs have expanded.
“It’s notable because the Obama Administration has been pretty adamant about its desire to get extra aid and funding into the pockets of local and state governments,” he said.