June 21, 2018
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Biggest lobbyist spenders in Maine: tobacco, racino and turnpike

By Steve Mistler, Sun Journal

Last month the Maine Turnpike Authority announced that it was immediately canceling all of its contracts with outside lobbyists. The move was a response to a watchdog report and high-profile legislative hearings that raised questions about the quasi-governmental agency’s spending practices.

Officials for the MTA said eliminating the contracts would save about $27,000 a year.

The agency will have to wait until next year to see those savings.

A review of clients that have spent the most money this year hoping to influence decisions in the Legislature and the governor’s office showed that the MTA paid seven different lobbyists a total of $38,178 through April 15.

According to disclosure documents, a portion of the MTA money went toward lobbying lawmakers or preparing for hearings related to the report by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability.

The agency lobbied other pieces of legislation, but a spokesman for the agency could not provide a breakdown of how much lobbying activity was devoted to the OPEGA hearings before deadline.

The expenditure ranks the MTA No. 3 on the top 10 list of clients that have spent the most money lobbying the Legislature and the administration of Gov. Paul LePage.

Leading the list is Altria Client Services Inc., a group representing tobacco companies such as Philip Morris and John Middleton Co.

According to disclosure documents with the Maine Ethics Commission, the organization has paid lobbyists $40,624 this session. Nearly all of that money has gone toward lobbying legislation, including a bill that would increase the state’s cigarette tax and another that outlaws the sale of certain tobacco products, such as flavored wrappers.

Close behind Altria in expenditures is Maine Racing LLC, a group trying to bring a racino to Biddeford. Maine Racing has lobbied both LePage and lawmakers on a bill that would expedite projects in Biddeford and Calais by bypassing the statewide referendum previously held for other casino projects such as Oxford and Bangor.

The group also lobbied a bill that clarified how the state measures the 100-mile build radius between gambling projects. The House and Senate have passed the measure, and the bill awaits LePage’s signature.

The Maine County Commissioners Association trails the MTA in lobbying expenditures this year, but not by much. The group represents the interests of the state’s 16 counties, which pay the MCCA dues for representation at the State House.

Androscoggin County, for example, has budgeted $8,765 for MCCA membership.

The MCCA has spent $38,038 this year while lobbying more than 20 bills. The legislation affects a range of topics including a repeal of the jail consolidation law and a proposal that would eliminate the Land Use Regulation Commission and assign land-use planning duties to the counties.

By comparison, the Maine Municipal Association represents 492 communities. It has spent $12,510 so far this year while lobbying more than 143 bills.

Central Maine Power Co. is No. 5 on the lobby list after spending $32,733 this year to influence about 20 bills that affect everything from the installation of smart meters to tax credits for renewable energy.

Not far behind CMP is the Maine Association of Realtors, which has spent $31,875. The group has interests in about 20 different bills, including one that repeals the Informed Growth Act, the law requiring towns to conduct an economic impact analysis of big-box projects such as Walmarts or Home Depots.

The group favors repeal of the law.

It opposes a bill that would prohibit the use of cell phones while driving. Documents show that the group also has lobbied a bill that would ban texting while driving, however, it did not testify during a public hearing on the measure.

The Maine Health Care Association, representing senior care providers, is No. 7 on the list. The organization has testified on more than a half-dozen bills, including a bill that would repeal the Certificate of Need requirement for the construction of certain medical facilities.

Pharmaceutical companies have been big spenders this year as companies such as Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca have lobbied several bills.

However, the single biggest spender is the company Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals. The company makes a host of drugs, including Suboxone, a drug used to combat opioid addiction.

Reckitt has spent $24,166 lobbying the governor’s office, although it’s not clear why.

The LePage administration did not respond to a request for comment late Thursday.

The Maine Beverage Co. is No. 9 on the lobby list at $21,940, followed by Black Bear Entertainment at $20,625.

Black Bear has lobbied several gaming bills. The Maine Beverage Co., the wholesale liquor supplier to agency stores, has lobbied LePage’s proposed budget.

Hundreds of companies and organizations have spent money lobbying the Legislature, the governor’s office and constitutional officers so far this year. According to the Maine Ethics Commission, more than $2 million has been spent in those efforts.

The Sun Journal is a member of the Maine Press Association, which has spent $481 lobbying three different bills this session. One of those bills deals with a change to the state’s Freedom of Access Law, while a second would increase the accessibility of public records such as birth announcements.

A third, a bill that eliminates the requirement to publish rule-making notices in newspapers, would have a financial impact on newspapers.

The Maine Association of Broadcasters has spent $65.22 this year lobbying a bill that would clarify contract regulations to remove the noncompete provision in a broadcast industry contract.

See more news from the Sun Journal at http://www.sunjournal.com/.

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