October 17, 2019
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Here’s a look at the top spenders trying to influence Maine lawmakers

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A man walks toward the State House in Augusta in this February 2019 file photo.

Lobbyists ranging from the cable industry to major electric utilities have reported spending a combined $4.2 million in the newly Democratic Maine Legislature’s busy legislative session.

But top spenders didn’t always get what they wanted, according to an Associated Press analysis of state lobbying reports through June. Some business and advocacy groups have a second chance at getting their bills passed in January, when lawmakers return to take up carried-over bills.

Such groups typically spend between $4 million and $5 million on lobbying in the years when newly elected, or re-elected, lawmakers have submitted bills and consider the two-year budget. Lobbyist compensation often drops by half in the years when lawmakers generally take up leftover bills.

Among the bills that drew the biggest spending:

Cable TV providers

One of the most costly fights this year was over a bill that would ensure public access channels are treated like other channels.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills signed the bill into law in June despite the cable industry’s well-funded fight.

Republican Sen. David Woodsome’s legislation aims to boost the broadcast quality of public access channels in rural areas and address cable television operators who change local access channels to high station numbers. The bill also prevents cable operators from modifying or amending franchise agreements with local officials without the municipality’s consent.

Cable providers such as Charter and Comcast argued it is better for municipalities and cable providers to informally negotiate with each other without state mandates that they say are pre-empted by federal law.

Charter alone spent $96,000 on lobbying the bill, according to state lobbying reports.

Such critics haven’t given up their fight — The Internet & Television Association filed suit in federal court to prevent Maine from enforcing the state law Thursday. Comcast, meanwhile, sued Maine this month in federal court over another law to require cable operators to allow subscribers to purchase access to individual channels.

Central Maine Power

Central Maine Power reported spending just over $100,000 this year on lobbying officials as the company seeks support for a controversial transmission project and undergoes scrutiny over an overbilling scandal.

That’s up from $61,000 in 2018 and $78,000 in 2017.

CMP successfully fought against bills aimed at creating obstacles for the proposed 145-mile transmission project in western Maine. Mills vetoed two such bills.

A group opposed to the transmission project — Say No to NECEC — reported spending nearly $30,000 on lobbying.

Emera Maine, meanwhile, spent nearly $90,000 on lobbying.

CMP and Emera this year fought a Democrat’s bill to have Maine buy the state’s two investor-owned utilities — Central Maine Power and Emera Maine — and create a consumer-owned power authority. Emera reported spending roughly $21,000 to lobby against that bill.

The idea has come up in past years, but CMP critics are hoping to capitalize on public unrest. The bill ended up being carried over to the next session that starts in January.

Internet privacy

Charter also spent heavily as it fought a sweeping consumer privacy bill that the governor signed into law.

Under Democratic Sen. Shenna Bellows’ legislation, a broadband internet provider could not use, disclose, sell or permit access to personal information without the customer’s express consent.

The bill drew praise from privacy advocates nationwide for its approach, which protects customers in Maine who are billed by internet providers that are physically located in Maine.

The wireless industry’s major trade group argued that consumers are already well protected by the Federal Trade Commission.

Charter reported spending another $42,000 on lobbying Bellows’ bill.

Brewers

Brewers and wholesalers spent big and won a sweeping reform that vastly expands the definition of who qualifies as a “small craft brewer.”

Maine law defined a “small brewer” as producing fewer than 1,600 barrels of beer annually. Those that make more have to sign contracts with a wholesale distributor.

Supporters call such contracts rigid. The new law increases the cap to 30,000 and makes it easier for breweries to exit distribution contracts.

Brewing company MillerCoors reported lobbying on the bill, which the Maine Brewers Guild called a huge win. The Maine Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association reported spending $52,000 on the bill.

National popular vote

Advocacy group National Popular Vote reported spending roughly $50,000 alone trying to get Maine lawmakers to join a compact to reform the nation’s electoral college system.

Lawmakers weren’t swayed.

Democratic Senate President Troy Jackson’s bill received an initial 19-16 vote in the Senate in May. The House voted several times against it at first, but then voted 77-69 in support of it June 12. Five days later, enough Democratic lawmakers flipped to doom the bill with a 68-79 vote.

Marijuana sales

Groups looking for a piece of recreational marijuana sales to adults spent tens of thousands of dollars on lobbying this year.

Mills signed a bill in late June that sets up a legal framework for recreational sales. Maine residents chose to legalize recreational marijuana in a 2016 public vote.

The state Office of Marijuana Policy plans to begin accepting applications for recreational marijuana business licenses by the end of the year.

A business that calls itself “WeeDelivery207” reported spending $20,000 on lobbying for a single bill, which would allow certain pot deliveries by adult marijuana sales.

That bill’s been pushed back to January.

 



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