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Who’s buying the legislature?
Despite contribution limits, lobbyists and PACs keep filling the candidates’ coffers
Follow the money

Top spenders on lobbying activity 2003-’04

1) Massachusetts Teachers Association (teachers’ labor union): $3,941,852

2) Massachusetts Medical Society (physicians’ organization): $1,245,268

3) Retired State, County, and Municipal Employees Association of Massachusetts (retired government employees): $1,213,902

4) Associated Industries of Massachusetts (business groups): $1,165,473

5) Massachusetts Hospital Association (health-care organizations): $1,117,007

6) MassEquality.org (pro-gay-marriage group): $932,034*

7) Life Insurance Association of Massachusetts (insurance industry): $732,442

8) Competitive Power Coalition of New England (energy industry): $730,000

9) AFSCME Council 93 (labor union): $615,242

10) Northeast Utilities (energy industry): $594,026

11) Eli Lilly & Co. (pharmaceutical company): $587,050

12) Massachusetts Nurses Association (nurses’ organization): $572,091

13) MassMutual Life Insurance (insurance company): $514,884

14) Clear Channel Outdoor (media company): $497,451

15) Children’s Hospital (health-care organization): $496,403

16) Philip Morris USA (tobacco company): $489,547

17) Massachusetts Municipal Association (cities and towns): $463,410

18) Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (insurance company): $443,799

19) American Petroleum Institute (oil industry): $426,223

20) NStar Services Co. (energy company): $420,000

21) Verizon (phone company): $404,421

22) Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America (pharmaceutical industry): $401,387*

23) Massachusetts Association of Health Plans (HMO consortium): $400,725

*Through June 2004; filing for July-December 2004 unavailable

Source: records at the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth

Top PAC contributions to candidates

Retired Public Employees: $65,150

Massachusetts Corrections Officers: $51,200

Operating Engineers Local 4: $49,000

Boston Carmen’s Local 589: $45,905

Massachusetts Federation of Teachers: $42,885

Fire Fighters of Massachusetts: $42,350

Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 12: $39,275

Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association: $36,200

Massachusetts Laborers’ District Council: $31,750

Beer Distributors: $28,260

Source: Institute on Money in State Politics


IT’S BEEN 10 years since Massachusetts clamped down on lobbyists’ ability to buy political influence, and yet their dollars still flow into legislators’ coffers. Lobbyists are restricted to $200 per candidate per year, and yet managed to give, as a group, more than $1 million to legislative campaigns. Political-action committees (PACs), limited to $500 single donations, gave another million dollars. And that’s not counting the many personal contributions from those employed or represented by the approximately 1000 PACs, corporations, unions, and industry associations that lobby in Massachusetts.

It all adds up to big bucks for legislators, but it’s just a fraction of what lobbyists spend to influence the law. Lobbyists, including those who work for PACs, cannot buy so much as a cup of coffee for lawmakers, and yet, through salaries, research, overhead, consultants, and so on, they spent close to $100 million during the 2003-2004 legislative session.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the money game on Beacon Hill is the difficulty of following it. Thanks to campaign-finance-reform laws passed in 1994, all lobbying entities must register with the Secretary of the Commonwealth and disclose all their contributions and expenditures. Roughly 1000 do so. In addition, all lobbyists themselves themselves must register; the state has about 650 of them. How the 650 lobbyists relate to the 1000 lobbying entities is a maddening web: some entities employ lobbyists directly, some hire independent lobbyists, and some do both. The lobbying entities must disclose the bills they promote or work against, but only by bill number. All these records are public, but not easily accessible or understandable — you literally can’t tell the players without a scorecard.

When you sort it all out, however, most of this monetary activity stems from a surprisingly small coterie of influential individuals and organizations, according to a Boston Phoenix analysis of records filed with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance and with the Secretary of the Commonwealth. In fact, of the 650 registered lobbyists and 167 active PACs in the state, just 20 prominent lobbying firms and 10 large PACs collectively pumped more than $1 million into legislative candidates’ war chests in the past two years. And of the 1000 lobbying interests on Beacon Hill, a mere two dozen of them are responsible for about $20 million, or a fifth, of total lobbying expenditures.

These policy influencers are not as well known as Senate president Robert Travaglini or House Ways and Means chair John Rogers. In fact, you may never have heard of Brian Hickey, John McGlynn Jr., William Coyne, Shawn Duhamel, Richard Guiney, or Michael Canavan. But your elected legislators know them. These lobbyists and the interests they represent have seen plenty of elected pols come and go — the Bulgers, Finnerans, and Birminghams — and they remain more entrenched than any of them.

Hickey, McGlynn, and Coyne head prominent firms that serve as hired guns, lobbying for dozens of clients. They are also among the many who individually contributed totals of more than $15,000 to assorted legislators’ campaign funds in the past two years. Although unable to individually contribute more than $200 to any one person per year, many of these independent lobbyists hand that sum out to multiple recipients like lollipops at the Citizens Bank window: Robert Rodophele, partner in the lobbying firm Ferriter, Scobbo & Rodophele, contributed to 30 of the 40 state senators. At Hickey & Associates, Hickey and three other lobbyists pooled their resources to give a combined average of more than $300 to each of the 200 legislators on the Hill over the past two-year session.

Duhamel, Guiney, and Canavan are specialists, working for PACs representing retired public employees, MBTA workers, and teachers, respectively. The PACs each contributed more than $40,000 to candidates.

If anything, 2005 will see the spigots flowing even faster, as the legislature plans to take on controversial issues like health care, automobile insurance, taxation, public education, and economic development. These issues go right to the bottom line of the interest groups that spent the most on lobbying last session: hospitals and health-care interests, insurers, business associations, and education. "This will be a very busy year for us," says Ed Sullivan, executive director of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which easily outspent all other lobbyists in the 2003-’04 session, lavishing close to $4 million on its Beacon Hill efforts. The number-two spender from last session, the Massachusetts Medical Society, has already submitted a medical-liability-reform bill, and intends to lobby on several other fronts as well, according to spokesperson Richard Gulla.

That lobbying will bear little resemblance to its efforts in years past. The old-fashioned "wining and dining" of legislators went out with 1994’s reform laws. "It’s really changed" from the days when legislators could buy access through expensive steak dinners, says Bob Quinn, of Quinn & Morris, in Boston. "Mostly it’s remembering to go to somebody’s mother’s wake." Lobbyists cannot give a gift or "knowingly pay for any meal, beverage, or other item to be consumed by" a public official. Lobbyists for Associated Industries of Massachusetts occasionally took state execs to Souper Salad last year, but had to let them pay for themselves. (Although Fidelity Investments, Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., and MassMutual Insurance Co. each got away with spending $100,000-plus to host a fancy party on the USS Intrepid during the Republican National Convention.)

The massive lobbying expenditures in Massachusetts — ranked fourth-highest in the country, after California, Texas, and New York — now go primarily to lobbyist salaries, research, reports, consulting fees, and staff and office expenses. The spending works out to approximately $300,000 per legislator each year, disbursed mostly by industry associations, labor unions, and large corporations in hopes of convincing the legislature to help them — or, just as often, to prevent measures that would hurt them.

The Bay State’s progressive, full-time legislature is forever considering action that some interest group wants to block. "For the most part, lobbying is a defensive activity — making sure they don’t hurt us," says Quinn, whose clients include financial institutions and the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribal Council. Robert Ruddock, a lobbyist for Associated Industries of Massachusetts, agrees. "A big piece of lobbying is making sure bad things don’t happen," he says.

"Lobbying firms use their dollars on Beacon Hill to stop progressive legislation," says Galen Nelson, a researcher with the Massachusetts Money and Politics Project. Pharmaceutical lobbies, Nelson says, spent $3 million between 2000 and 2003 lobbying successfully to prevent the state from enacting bulk purchasing of prescription drugs, and other drug-cost-reduction measures. Supporters of such reform measures, groups like MassPIRG and Health Care for All, spent a small fraction of that. "Powerful special-interest groups speak with a much, much louder voice," Nelson says. Clean-water legislation was killed last session, and business PACs are already fighting Governor Mitt Romney’s attempts to close business-tax loopholes.

These tactics are also familiar to organized labor. Most of the top campaign-contributing PACs in the state are labor unions, including those serving government employees such as teachers, police, and firefighters. Romney’s attempts to make teachers subject to firing, and to extend the school day, will probably meet the same resistance from teachers’ unions that similar proposals have encountered before.

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Issue Date: February 4 - 10, 2005
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