$240 Million Education Contract Illustrates State Lobbying Loopholes
When California education officials awarded a $240 million, three-year contract to conduct Common Core testing for millions of school children this spring, they said it was an open and competitive process — and that Educational Testing Service, the winning company, simply had the best proposal.
Not everyone agrees the process was so open, nor do they agree that ETS was the clear choice. And several weeks of KQED News questions about the contracting process ended without a full set of answers.
California’s murky disclosure laws make it nearly impossible to know exactly what kinds of work private companies do to influence how thousands of state government contracts are awarded, including whether those same companies seek advantages at every step of the process with behind-the-scenes lobbying.
Existing state law generally limits the disclosure of influence to anyone being paid to advocate for changes in state law or regulations, the traditional kind of lobbying that’s largely focused around the work of the California Legislature and the executive branch. But a private company looking to influence the awarding of a state contract by one of dozens of state agencies and departments isn’t held to the same standards.
That means conversations between advocates and key decision-makers about the roughly 100,000 state contracts handed out each year — worth some $12 billion in taxpayer funds in 2014 and an average of $34 billion a year since 2010 — remain in the shadows, far from public scrutiny. The totals were culled from a state Department of General Services database that does not include contracts worth less than $5,000.
These numbers were culled from a California Department of General Services database. The totals may be incomplete as DGS depends on departments and agencies to self-report their own totals and doesn’t request information on state contracts worth less than $5,000. The numbers represent the total amounts awarded, not paid out, in a calendar year.
These kinds of conversations are common knowledge among Sacramento insiders. And while many prominent lobbying firms in the capital city even advertise their expertise in helping to secure lucrative contracts, they are nonetheless allowed to keep that part of their business a secret.
Gary Winuk, the former chief enforcement officer for California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, said more than two dozen states and the federal government require disclosure of lobbying efforts to win government contracts. So do nearly all of California’s big cities and counties — including San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego.
“To me it always seemed like a common sense idea,” Winuk said. “The same reason you want it for bills, you want it for (contracts), because you want to see out in the open who’s trying to influence who and if there are any indications that people aren’t working on behalf of the public.”
Winuk helped write a legislative attempt to tackle the issue, Assembly Bill 1200 by Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park), which is pending in the state Senate as legislators return from summer recess next week.
AB 1200 would expand state lobbying disclosure laws to include contracts. If it’s ultimately signed into law, private companies and organizations that hire lobbyists would have to disclose how much they are spending to influence which contracts — the same way they have to divulge which legislation and regulations they seek to impact.
But not everyone thinks there needs to be more transparency. Jim Sutton, a San Francisco lawyer who works on campaign finance and lobbying issues, said that AB 1200 has “surface appeal,” but won’t really give Californians any more information than they have under existing law. Sutton argues that it’s already clear who wants to influence a contracting process: the companies that bid on the contracts.
“You know who is influencing the process,” Sutton said. “You know who the companies are and frankly whether it’s through a public records request for emails or the bid itself, you are going to know who is working on it, or if they have hired a lobbyist.”
That wasn’t our experience, however, when we started digging into the circumstances surrounding the Common Core testing contract.
‘They Are Going to Have Some Advantages’
In some ways, it wasn’t surprising the California State Board of Education decided to award the Common Core contract to ETS in April. The New Jersey nonprofit has a long and lucrative history with the department, one worth $800 million over the past 15 years. ETS has held the state Department of Education’s main standardized testing contract for more than a decade — a contract repeatedly extended without a competitive bidding process.
The new contract is a new version of that 13-year-old contract; earlier this year, ETS was also awarded a three-year, $38 million contract to oversee English language testing.
But the Common Core contract is the one that seems to have raised the most eyebrows — in large part because ETS’ winning proposal will cost taxpayers $34 million more than the lowest alternative bid.
Longtime observers said it’s not unusual for education officials to favor known vendors and for the state Board of Education to rubber stamp those staff recommendations.
“There’s very little question in my mind that Educational Testing Service was the favorite from the beginning,” said Doug McRae, a retired test publisher who closely follows state education policy and raised questions about whether ETS should have won the newest contract.
ETS officials sought to capitalize on that that familiarity when they presented their bid to state board members last March.
“One of the things we’d like you to consider when you are looking at the proposals from these great companies is our track record,” said John Oswald, ETS vice president for K-12 schools. “Here in California, we obviously have had the advantage that we’ve been here, so you know our work.”
But a track record of familiarity isn’t the only thing public officials are supposed to be considering when they award taxpayer money. While in this case, the Department of Education was not required by state law to pick the lowest bidder, it was supposed to make the process “open and competitive” — and make sure the public got the best possible deal.
Keric Ashley, a deputy state superintendent of public instruction, insisted in an interview that the agency did just that, that it considered the “depth and quality” of the proposals as well as the cost to choose a vendor with “the best chance of delivering a successful test contract.”
Still, Ashley said any familiar contractor is going to have a leg up.
“Anytime you have a contractor currently in place and doing activity and they are doing a job well, they are going to have some advantages. I wouldn’t call them unfair advantages,” he said. “It’s the same everywhere.”
Ashley admitted that representatives of all three testing companies that bid on the most recent contract met with him and his supervisor prior to the contract being put out to bid — meetings he described as routine. He insisted that those conversations were only general in nature and didn’t include detailed discussions about how the department would structure its request for bids, known as the request for submissions (RFS).
“We meet fairly regularly with a lot of different vendors,” Ashley said. “We certainly don’t discuss the RFS itself, because we have to maintain not only objectivity but make sure all the test vendors get the same information.”
But when KQED News sought detailed information about those meetings, we came up empty-handed.
Proof Hard to Come By
A public records request only turned up information on a single meeting — between the deputy superintendent, Ashley, and an official with the low bidding company that lost the contract, Pearson Education. State officials disclosed no records of meetings between ETS and education officials, despite Ashley’s admission in a KQED News interview that at least one meeting occurred.
Tom Ewing, an ETS spokesman, first said that no such meeting occurred; then, he later admitted that it had.
State education officials were more vague. Elizabeth Stein, an attorney for the Department of Education, wrote in an email, “the fact that the search did not uncover a record of a meeting … that you were told may have taken place does not shed light on whether such a meeting did or did not actually occur, and it would be wrong to draw conclusions or entertain speculation based on the fact that records were not located in our search.”
All three companies that bid on the Common Core testing contract retain professional lobbyists in Sacramento, and spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on their advocacy services inside the state Capitol. Ewing, however, said that ETS does not use its firm to lobby for government contracts.
Pearson Education, the rival company that lost out on the contract, did make use of its lobbyist to reach out to Board of Education officials, according to emails disclosed through the public records request. Those emails indicate that Pearson officials met with two members of the state Board of Education but that a third, Sue Burr, wrote that she could not sit down with them.
“I am sorry but I have to decline,” she wrote. “All board members have recently been advised by our legal counsel that, due to competitive procurement process for statewide assessments, we should not engage in independent conversations with potential contractors.”
The email was sent in October, a month before the request for bids went out.
Winuk, the former FPPC enforcement chief, said those early meetings are troubling, because that’s when a private company can actually exercise the most influence: while the language of a contract proposal is still being drafted, language that can ultimately favor a specific bidder.
“That’s really where the process can potentially be manipulated to give someone a leg up,” Winuk said. “If you are building an arena, for example, you (could say) you have to have built another arena in California — but maybe there is only one company that has ever built an arena in California. That company is going to have an advantage if you have that criteria.”
In the case of the state’s Common Core contract, concerns about the internal process extended throughout the bidding process.
Both Pearson officials and McRae, the retired testing executive, took issue with the scoring process used by education officials to evaluate the bids. McRae raised his concerns in public testimony prior to the board’s final vote.
He noted that ETS scored the highest in virtually all of the areas assessed, even though some of its proposals were clearly inferior to those of the other bidder.
McRae said other aspects of the scoring also didn’t make sense. For example, he said, Pearson had the lowest cost proposal but was scored number two out of three vendors in that area.
Pearson, an international education company, initially threatened to file a lawsuit over the decision but has since backed off — meaning ETS appears here to stay.
Even if ETS was the best choice, supporters of ethics reform said disclosure laws are really about assuring Californians that they can have confidence that the process is fair.
“A lot ethics rules are designed to deal with the issue of trust in government,” Winuk said. “Part of this is help to instill some transparency, some sunshine, so people can really see what’s going on and hopefully get more engaged in the process.”
August 15, 2015
Bill Looks to Put State Lobbying Laws on Par With Local Rules
A bill moving through the California Legislature that would force disclosure around lobbying for state contracts would put California in a group of just 18 states that require disclosure of procurement lobbying — which sounds good until you consider that a number of local communities have had similar rules on the books for years.
Assembly Bill 1200 , one of hundreds of bills awaiting final action when lawmakers return next week, would expand existing lobbying laws to include state government contracts. The law would apply to anyone who pays a lobbyist more than $2,000 a month or has someone on staff whose primary job is to lobby government officials.
Currently, state ethics laws only require disclosure of lobbyists paid to help influence legislation or state regulations.
If AB 1200 passes the Senate and is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the state would only just now be catching up to practices long established at the local level.
Four of California’s six largest counties — Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, and Santa Clara — have lobbying ordinances that specifically include contracts when it comes to disclosing the use of paid lobbyists.
Los Angeles County, which has thousands of contracts on the books on everything from grounds keeping to armed security guards, has even built its disclosure law into the process of applying for a contract to provide county services. Each applicant must certify that they are aware of the registration and disclosure requirements that the county places on lobbyists. Breaking the lobbying law in LA County has consequences: The firm or person seeking the contract is disqualified from contention.
The state’s largest cities also already regulate contract lobbying the same way that AB 1200’s author, Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D -Menlo Park), hopes to enact at the state level. For many of those cities, this kind of disclosure requirement is nothing new.
Stacey Fulhorst, executive director of the San Diego Ethics Commission, led an overhaul of the city’s lobbying ordinance in 2007 but says lobbying for contracts has been on the city books at least since the 1990’s. She says it’s “surprising” the state hasn’t adopted a similar provision.
Fulhorst also learned in the three years it took to overhaul San Diego’s laws the difficulty in tailoring lobbying laws so that routine communication isn’t discouraged.
“We didn’t want to have to include a citizen contacting a representative about a street light,” she says.
For that reason, most city and county lobbying rules allow for communications — within the normal bid submission process — between vendors and the local governments they are hoping to supply with services.
Even smaller counties with fewer contracts have seen the need to have some kind of disclosure requirement to make sure big deals aren’t won with behind-the-scenes activity. In 1983, Santa Cruz County was considering the idea of entering into an exclusive cable television agreement with a single provider. County supervisors passed an ordinance that would require lobbyists to register during the bidding process.
But according to Santa Cruz County spokesman Rayne Marr, the ordinance “is a relic of the past” and is no longer used.
Some counties instead rely on a series of ethics laws around the procurement process. These can govern the acceptance of gifts from applicants, or they set guidelines for appropriate contact with current service providers.
But without the registration of lobbyists, the counties and cities, like the state of California, are left unable to fully account for the contacts made and conversations that lead up to the awarding of thousands of taxpayer-funded contracts.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
August 16, 2015
Lobbyist spending in Harrisburg trending upward
Even in a budget season as contentious as this year’s, Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to raise taxes on tobacco products would seem like a winner. Pennsylvania is the only state that doesn’t charge an additional tax on smokeless tobacco, and one of two not to tax cigars. “In the polls I’ve done, taxing cigars and smokeless tobacco has been very popular,” said veteran state pollster Terry Madonna.
But politicians have at least 8,627,278 reasons to oppose the idea — one for every dollar the nation’s two largest tobacco companies have spent lobbying Harrisburg since 2007.
RAI Services and Altria Client Services are far from Harrisburg’s biggest spenders. According to a Post-Gazette review of a Pennsylvania’s Department of State database, nearly 2,700 interest groups have spent $791 million lobbying in Harrisburg between 2007 and March 2015. Tobacco is dwarfed by health care concerns and the Marcellus Shale industry, also the target of a tax proposed by Mr. Wolf.
Still, tobacco has had influence to burn. “Our advocacy budget isn’t anywhere near what the tobacco industry is able to spend,” said Deborah Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association’s Mid-Atlantic chapter. The group has spent just $135,000 since 2007.
Lobbying isn’t the only form of leverage: Pennsylvania is the largest tobacco-producing state outside the South, according to federal statistics. “Pennsylvania has a significant tobacco-growing industry,” said Altria spokesman David Sutton. Sustaining those jobs is “an issue that gets brought into taxation.”
But lobbyists can amplify such messages, and the volume in Harrisburg is rising.
In 2007, when Pennsylvania lobbyists began reporting their activity under a 2006 state law, lobbying interests reported spending $84,175,726. By 2014, according to the state database, the total was $106,283,183. That’s roughly a 10 percent increase after inflation.
“There’s been an incremental but perceptible increase in how power politics and money intersect,” said Eric Epstein of reform group Rock the Capital. “If you don’t have access, you don’t have influence.”
Measuring such influence isn’t easy, even though the state requires “principals” — entities or individuals that spend money to affect legislative or regulatory decisions -- to report their spending four times a year.
For starters, not all lobbying is the same. One category involves gifts, food, travel and other perks provided to state officials and their families. Such activities arguably reflect the coziest relationships, but make up less than 2 cents of every lobbying dollar reported.
“Direct communication,” which consumes about 70 cents of each lobbying dollar, covers written or oral communication shared directly with a state employee or elected official. “Indirect communication” covers efforts to encourage others to pressure state officials, like a “tell your representative to vote ’no’” TV ad.
“If you saw our offices, I suspect you’d say, ‘For the number two [lobbying] group, that’s a lot of pretty worn-out furniture,” said Samuel Marshall, president and CEO of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania. According to state records, it’s spent $13.2 million since 2007.
The federation has just three registered lobbyists, but “everything we do, at least indirectly, is geared toward representing the industry in Harrisburg,” Mr. Marshall said. Accordingly, he said he errs on the side of over reporting expenses: “Nobody gets in trouble for reporting too much.”
There are other reasons, including data entry errors, to treat the numbers with caution. The rules can be gamed, or at least interpreted charitably, and the reports filed by unions and ideological groups are hotly debated (see accompanying story).
Still, there’s little doubt that lobbying is on the rise, at least partly due to the state's natural gas industry.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, the industry’s trade group, is the state’s most active lobbying concern. It reports spending just under $14.1 million since 2010. A handful of individual companies, meanwhile, reported their own million-dollar expenditures.
“The Marcellus Shale people pretty much ran the table in Harrisburg,” said Barry Kauffman, executive director of watchdog group Common Cause Pennsylvania.
In a statement, the coalition said the industry has “experienced enormous growth over the last several years, helping to create and support tens of thousands of local jobs as well as generating hundreds of millions in tax revenues.” Growing that industry, it added, requires providing “critical, fact-based information to key stakeholders and the general public.”
Health care is also a key industry, though as with other sectors, some advocacy comes at other interest groups’ expense.
Six of Pennsylvania’s top 10 lobbying interests work in health care or insurance, led by the Hospital & Health system Association of Pennsylvania. Its $11,890,500 in spending since 2007 makes it the state’s third-biggest lobbying interest.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Highmark and UPMC are both among the state’s top 10 lobbying players. Each reports spending more than $7 million since 2007, just through one lobbying entity apiece. But outside Pittsburgh too, “There’s an ongoing confrontation between health care providers and insurers,” said former Pennsylvania lieutenant governor Mark Singel, who now works as a lobbyist for the Winter Group. “And for the most part, people battle to a standstill.”
Often, said Mr. Epstein of Rock the Capital, lobbying is “a battle between heavyweights — and the consumer is a powerless spectator.”
Lobbying interests counter that they provide a public service.
While the Hospital Association lobbies on everything from protecting hospitals’ nonprofit status to licensing requirements, “All of [our] advocacy work is focused on improving the delivery of health care in the commonwealth,” said Scott Bishop, senior vice president for legislative advocacy.
“People have a constitutional right to address their government,” said Roy Wells, president and managing director of Triad Strategies, a prominent lobbying firm. And he warned against overstating the coziness of lobbyists’ ties to officials.
“If you go to dinner with somebody and become friends to some degree, that creates a basis to state your client’s case,” he said. “But it’s not my relationship that’s going to carry the day. That legislator has a lot of other things to look at in terms of how they vote.”
“It’s a common misconception that lobbyists tell us to vote in a certain way and we do it,” agreed state Sen. Rob Teplitz. The Dauphin County Democrat co-chairs a bipartisan government reform caucus and has pressed to limit some lobbying activity. Still, he said, “There are many times a lobbyist is able to provide useful information.”
Then he added, more seriously, “The ideal situation would be if representatives were hearing from citizens, rather than people paid to influence them.”
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
August 16, 2015
What does state law require for lobbying reports? Good question
Critics of Pennsylvania’s state-run liquor stores often regard the United Food and Commercial Workers union as a political juggernaut. Judging by its reported lobbying activity, though, you might think they were peering through beer goggles.
The UFCW, which represents state store employees, has reported $1,179,716 in lobbying since 2007, ranking it just 128th among Harrisburg interest groups. Unions generally aren’t top lobbying concerns: The $3.9 million reported by the most active, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, ranks only 22nd.
Some Harrisburg observers expressed surprise at those totals; others said labor’s influence lies in the workers it taps for campaign contributions and political fieldwork. But the Commonwealth Foundation of Public Policy Alternatives, a Harrisburg “free-market think tank,” has a different take.
“Unions are significantly under-reporting their lobbying,” said spokesman John Bouder. In federal filings, he noted, the UFCW reported $503,508 in lobbying for 2014, when it reported $372,690 to the state.
“There is a difference between the accounting that the federal government wants and how the state does it,” said UFCW Local 1776 President Wendell Young IV.
Mr. Young isn’t registered as a lobbyist, though lobbying is “one of many hats I wear.” While UFCW discloses payments to outside lobbyists, state law exempts any “individual who does not receive economic consideration for lobbying” — and as president, Mr. Young said, he isn’t paid to lobby per se.
UFCW also hasn’t reported a 2014 TV campaign urging viewers to “tell your state [legislators] to say ‘no’ to liquor privatization.”
State law requires lobbying interests to report the cost of messages that “encourage others [to take steps that will] directly influence legislative action.” But Mr. Young said the ads were “representational activity” about contract issues, not lobbying.
“Asking the public to support [state store] members is no different than asking them to support our members at grocery stores,” he said.
The state Ethics Commission, which investigates alleged violations of the law, hasn’t weighed in on that question. While it has issued advisory opinions concerning disclosure, it has rarely investigated lobbying reports. Out of 92 cases where the commission fined violators, 91 involved simple paperwork problems, mostly failing to file reports on time.
Robert Caruso, the commission’s executive director, said that generally, anyone who performs 20 hours or $2,500 worth of lobbying per quarter should register as a lobbyist. But “unless we have something concrete — like we know you were in the General Assembly for 25 hours — it’s difficult to determine” a violation. The commission has six investigators, who also police the ethics of public officials statewide.
“The commission has a Herculean job, but they are underfunded,” said Gene Stilp, a government activist.
A formal complaint would spur a full ethics investigation, but none has been filed against the UFCW, even after conservative media attacked its filings last year.
“We thought a complaint would be most effective coming from someone with a more obvious stake, like a legislator, said Mr. Bouder. That no one had done so, he said, was “a disappointment.”
August 17, 2015
Corcoran & Johnston hauls in $1.3 million in Q2 lobbying fees
Corcoran & Johnston collected an estimated $1.3 million during the second quarter of 2015, according to recently submitted compensation reports.
The firm’s largest invoices came from Sharon Robinson, who is a guardian and personal representative seeking relief from the state of Florida. Robinson easily broke six figures in paying $84,000 for legislative lobbying efforts and between $30,000 -$39,999 for executive branch lobbying.
The iconicFontainebleu Florida Hotel in Miami also paid a pretty penny for representation in Tallahassee last quarter — its total fees ran to $52,000 for legislative lobbying and between $20,000-$29,999 for executive branch work for an estimated total of $77,000, the second-highest total of any Corcoran client.
Led by co-founder and GOP electoral guru Michael Corcoran — brother of rising speaker and House budget chief state Rep. Richard Corcoran — the tight-knit firm pulled in $1,011,000 in consulting fees for legislative work and $285,000 for executive branch lobbying altogether.
The firm’s Tampa Bay roots showed in its client list during the last reporting period, which ran from April 1 to June 30.
Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, University of South Florida Foundation, Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, TECO Energy, IMG Academy, and pro football’s Tampa Bay Buccanneers were among major local institutions that employed C&J’s services during Q2.
Other major clients included Florida Optometry Eye Health Fund, whose compensation paid the firm totaled an estimated $50,000, as did that of Spirit Airlines.
Interests as variegated as Florida Crystals, Beer Industry of Florida,Citizens Against Cigarette Manufacturers and Walmartalso sought the firm’s representation in Florida’s Capitol last quarter.
Along with the aforementioned Corcoran himself, name partner Jeff Johnston, Matthew Blair, Michael Cantens and Amanda Stewart handled the firm’s sprawling client list.
State law requires lobbying firms to submit compensation reports quarterly. They are permitted in most cases to simply report an approximate range of client compensation — e.g., $1-$9,999 — in lieu of the specific dollar amount.
New York Daily News
August 17, 2015
Influential lobbyist Patricia Lynch selling her firm: sources
Patricia Lynch, a former top aide to indicted ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, is selling the influential lobbying firm she founded in 2001, sources say.
MWW, a powerful public relations firm, is in the process of buying Patricia Lynch Associates, which for years was among the state’s three biggest lobbying firms, the sources say.
The deal's closing is said to be imminent. Lynch, who is highly respected by Democrats and Republicans in Albany, will stay on in an executive role, a source said. She is said to have already moved into MWW’s Park Avenue South offices in New York City.
“MWW has a huge national communications and strategy practice but had no New York State or city government affairs practice,” said one source familiar with the deal.
Lynch’s connections to Cuba through her firm’s Panama office was also enticing as were her relationships with Hillary Clinton and Sen. Charles Schumer, the source said.
MWW President Michael Kempner, a New Jersey Democrat, has close ties to Clinton and President Obama.
Lynch's firm in recent years suffered from reduced billings, layoffs, and federal tax liens. Though PLA fell to 10th among top lobbyists in 2014, the firm still managed to take in a hefty $4.2 million.
Lynch's tax woes began after she shelled out more than $2 million fending off a probe by Gov. Cuomo, who at the time was attorney general. Cuomo in 2009 subpoenaed the names of companies that used Lynch's firm to help win pension fund business from the controller's office. Her firm agreed to pay $500,000 to settle the matter, though it did not admit any wrongdoing.
Honolulu Civil Beat
August 17, 2015
Maui County Plans to Post List of Lobbyists Online
In June, Madge Schaefer wanted to know who was registered to lobby government officials on Maui, Lanai and Molokai.
She scoured the county Board of Ethics website but struck out, which was somewhat of a surprise given that Honolulu and the state both post their lists of registered lobbyists online.
Schaefer gave Maui’s Corporation Counsel a call and was told the list could be emailed to her. When she didn’t receive it by the next business day, she filed a formal records request under Hawaii’s Uniform Information Practices Act. She received the list 10 minutes later.County of
The list identifies the people being paid by private companies and nonprofits to persuade elected officials and others in local government to take certain actions. (Think land development, GMO regulations and plastic bag bans.)
Thanks to Schaefer’s effort, which County Council Chair Mike White brought to light in a column in the Maui News last month (albeit without naming names), the public can soon expect to have a much easier time finding out who is a registered lobbyist in Maui County.
The Board of Ethics voted unanimously last week to post the list on its website. It’s unclear when that will start.
“Understanding who a testifier represents can help to determine how a piece of testimony is evaluated,” White said in his testimony before the Board of Ethics. “The fact that this list is currently unpublished goes against the spirit of maintaining an open and transparent government.”
What really galled Schaefer was the county’s decision to bill her 75 cents for the list it had already emailed to her.
“Why is the list of registered lobbyists being treated as privileged information?” Schaefer asked Deputy Corporation Counsel Richard Rost in a July email exchange. “You are now responding 12 business days after my request and in what can only be described as vexatious billing, demanding 75 cents for copying of a one-page document I already have. Really?”
Rost wrote back that Schaefer had been given the courtesy of an immediate response to her request, a courtesy he noted is not required of the county under the UIPA.
“The County is permitted to charge for copies under the law, and not billing you for the documents in question would have been unfair to all the other requesters who are charged for their document requests,” he said. “Indeed, the County is permitted to decline to furnish documents until copying fees are paid. Again, as a courtesy, the County provided the documents to you instead of requiring payment first, as it was entitled to do under the law.”
Rost called it “unfortunate” and “deeply illogical” that Schaefer saw the request to pay 75 cents as “bullying.”
“It is your position that a taxpayer resident of Maui County is not entitled to public information and that what I got was a courtesy, because I didn’t have to pay in advance,” Schaefer responded.
“I have occasion to request information from other county departments and it is almost without exception, prompt and courteous, and startling to you I’m sure, absolutely free!
“To receive a lecture from you about what is fair is patronizing,” Schaefer continued. “What is, to use your term, ‘deeply illogical,’ is a senior attorney, replying late to an already filled request, in hot pursuit of 75 cents. I would hope that instead you would spend your time on more important matters.
“Of course, I will pay the 75 cents, so in a way you will be the winner in this truly trivial matter,” Schaefer wrote.
August 18, 2015
Top 10 Biggest Spending Lobbyist Groups of Oregon’s 2015 Legislative Session
Gun background checks, high-stakes student assessment, clean fuel standards and marijuana were some of the top issues of the session—a fact that lines up with lobbyist expenditures for January through July of 2015.
However, not all lobbyists’ top priorities rose to prominence on the public radar during the 2015 Legislative Session, which ran from Feb. 2 through July 9. Some had their efforts fall flat.
For example, Joe Baessler, the political director of Oregon American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), explained that he represents a wide array of members, which therefore keeps him involved in a wide array of legislative issues.
Oregon AFSCME was the third most spending lobbying group in the first half of the year, though of its top four priorities, only one saw a couple of bills pass. HB 2618qualified certain employees of residential facilities as police officers under PERS, while SB 226 created a task force to address the violence issues at these facilities.
Meanwhile, perhaps a farther reaching issue supported by AFSCME—public contracting reform and transparency—didn’t get past committee.
So, while money did get some of these issues to the top, money didn't necessarily guarantee legislative attention.
This week the Oregon Government Ethics Commission (OGEC) released lobbyist expenditures through June. Here are the top 10 biggest spending lobbying groups:
1. Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund - $764,232.35
2. Oregon Education Assn - $280,177.00
3. Oregon AFSCME Cncl 75 - $278,937.74
4. League of Oregon Cities - $241,926.82
5. Associated General Contractors - $231,816.40
6. Association of Oregon Counties - $227,221.44
7. Western States Petroleum Assn - $214,990.00
8. Cambia Health Solutions, Inc - $208,914.00
9. Oregon Nurses Association - $197,263.97
10. Providence Health & Services - $187,798.45
According to Oregon law, all lobbyists are required to report expenditures to the OGEC every quarter. The data doesn’t exactly correlate with the legislative session, however, and lobbyists certainly continue to spend year round—even when the Legislature is not meeting.
The tally listed by GoLocal includes expenditures from the lobbying groups, which are most often salaries. However, the OGEC also requires individual lobbyists to report expenses, such as food, refreshment or entertainment used to promote a legislative goal or gain support of a legislative official. These expenses are not included in the list, though it should be noted they are much lower than expenditures reported by a lobbying group.
Many of these lobbyists did sit at the table for some of the more prominent bills of the 2015 session. Here’s how they fit in:
Gun background checks
Lobbyists spent the most on Oregon’s SB 941, which expanded background checks to private transfers of guns. The national gun control advocacy group, Everytown for Gun Safety (No. 1), spent about $764,000 in Oregon to support the bill. Founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino in 2007, Mayors Against Illegal Guns merged with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in 2013 and changed its name to Everytown for Gun Safety a year later.
Everytown’s lobbying efforts included fact sheets and shareable web graphics on background checks, law enforcement deaths and criminal access to guns in Oregon as well as a TV commercial featuring Portland Police Chief Mike Reece.
The public hearings on the bill gathered hundreds of voices on the topic from both sides of the issue. Jenn Lynch, a member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety, testified that there are 45,000 Oregon members of Everytown, and argued that Oregon needs background checks for private gun sales.
The financial impact of the pro-gun lobby was much smaller than Everytown, though their ranks were many. A handful of groups opposing the bill spent about $88,800. The biggest spenders were the National Rifle Association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and the Oregon Hunters Association. A couple of registered lobbyists even worked for free.
High-stakes student assessment
The Oregon Education Association is No. 2 for dollars spent during the 2015 legislative session, and according to the OEA’s report card on the session, they were dollars well spent. Two bills addressed student assessment: HB 2655 gives parents the right to opt out of standardized testing; HB 2680 attempts to take the “high stakes” out of the tests by prohibiting school ratings and educator evaluations based on students’ performance.
The bills put Oregon at risk of losing federal dollars.
A work group will also be formed to help improve the student assessment system in Oregon.
Clean fuels or transportation?
Once the dust settled at the end of the 2015 session, proponents of low carbon standards could breathe easy: Oregon will have a clean fuels market. The renewed standard requires fuel importers to reduce the carbon content of their fuels by 10 percent by 2025—either by blending biofuels in their product or by purchasing credits from alternative fuel producers or projects.
SB 324 was passed in March, but later in the session Gov. Kate Brown proposed a transportation funding package that would have killed the bill and replaced it with other carbon reduction measures, while also adding taxes and fees to pay for transportation repairs and improvements.
Republican legislators upset about the clean fuels bill had threatened to block efforts to pass a transportation package, so the replacement clean fuels proposal was meant to be a compromise.
The proposal was bolstered by the oil industry’s disapproval of the original clean fuels standard. The Western States Petroleum Association (No. 8) lobbied against clean fuels.
Meanwhile, other lobbying groups were counting on the legislature to pass a transportation package, though did not necessarily take positions on clean fuels.
The League of Oregon Cities (No. 4) wanted increased funding for roads. “Unfortunately, this effort got mixed up with one of the most controversial bills of the session, legislation that extends the state’s low carbon fuel standards program. This bill, which passed early in the session, derailed development of a transportation package,” it wrote in a legislative recap.
The Associated General Contractors, the fifth top lobbying spender, also supported increased funding for road maintenance. “At some point, there needs to be political will inside and outside government to face this problem and get major projects flowing again,” wrote executive director of the local chapter of AGC Mike Salsgiver. “The longer we wait, the more our transportation system will deteriorate and the more expensive it will be to fix it.”
The Legislature also faced clarifying provisions made in Measure 91, which voters approved to legalize marijuana. Some of these addressed local concerns, bringing some of the top lobbyists to the table. Rob Bovett, legal counsel for the Association of Oregon Counties, argued that Measure 91, which only permitted opt outs through an election, did not give local jurisdictions adequate options.
In the sweeping HB 3400 signed in June, legislators gave local governments the right to opt out of the recreational marijuana program if at least 55 percent of voters opposed Measure 91. Those that do not qualify under that provision must put the issue to voters in a general election.
So far, a handful of counties and cities have opted out of the recreational marijuana program, including Malheur, Douglas, Umatilla and Harney counties, as well as a handful of small cities.
The legislature also gave local jurisdictions that do permit recreational marijuana the option of imposing a three percent point-of-sale tax on recreational marijuana. This would be in addition to the state’s 17 percent point-of-sale tax.
Cambia Health Solutions (No. 8), the Oregon Nurses Association (No. 9) and Providence Health Services (No. 10) were the top lobbyists from health backgrounds, though by no means the only ones. Many health-related bills received less public attention overall, but still a long list of bills was passed.
Some interesting ones: HB 2300 allows patients to try unapproved medications under conditions that were amended after concerns were raised by Providence Health. HB 3343, which requires medical insurance companies to cover contraceptives for 12 months, was supported by the Oregon Nurses Association.
August 18, 2015
Crunching the numbers from the most recent lobbying compensation reports
Registered governmental affairs firms, representing virtually every industry in Florida, reported earning slightly more than $35 million from January 1 to March 31 of this year to lobby the Florida Legislature.
FloridaPolitics.com previously reported which firms made what, with Ballard Partners and Southern Strategy Group leading all firms in Q2 compensation.
Crunching the numbers, here are a few additional thoughts on the second-quarter numbers. (None of these numbers include compensation for executive branch lobbying, which can be just as lucrative for a firm. However, for the purposes of this story, let’s compare apples to apples and focus on just legislative fees.)
— Business remains good: Median compensation figures are up approximately $1,125,000 over the second quarter of 2015.
— Business will likely remain good: Although it might be assumed that firms make more money in fiscal quarters near a legislative session, most lobbyists are paid on a monthly basis, thereby spreading fees out over all four quarters. Accordingly, if compensation increased by over $5 million from 2014-Q4 to 2015-Q1 and 2015-Q2, the industry is on track for double-digit growth in 2015.
— Ballard Partners’ and SSG’s hauls are even bigger than they appear here: Ballard nearly doubled its total with executive branch compensation, while Southern added approximately $1 million more to its bottom line from work before the executive branch.
— The Big 4 remains locked in, but the battle is on for the #3 spot: If lobbyists played in the College Football Playoff, the four teams playing for the championship would be SSG, Ballard Partners, Ron Book PA, and Capital City Consulting. This has not changed in any of the quarters since FloridaPolitics.com/SaintPetersBlog started tracking the compensation numbers, although SSG and Ballard often trade places. SSG has been on top (in these rankings) for four of the last six quarters. If you only count legislative compensation, as we do in these figures, Book is comfortably ahead of CCC. But when you throw in executive branch representation figures, Nick Iarossi and Co. are very close to securing the #3 position.
— The interesting battle for fifth place is getting more interesting: Since 2014-Q1, the #5 spot has been held by Colodny Fass, GrayRobinson, Colodny Fass, GrayRobinson, and GrayRobinson. Well, watch out Adams Street, there is a new Top 5 firm: Greenberg Traurig, which is benefiting from, among other factors, Fred Karlinsky’s rainmaking. This time last year, GT was ranked #14 on this list; now it’s (back?) in the top echelon of governmental affairs firms. (Gus Corbella, Hayden Dempsey, etc. would tell you GT never left.)
— The battle to be among the Top 10 is even more competitive: Because Greenberg Traurig has pushed its way into the #5 spot, that means the competition to be among the Top 10 firms is even more fierce. Really no place is the competition more intense than for spots #6-10. The Rubin Group is right there at #11 with only $24K less in compensation than Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney (which vaulted from #25 to #10 from 2015-Q1 to 2015-Q2). And it stands to reason that Bill Rubin’s firm is in the Top 10 overall because it does so well with executive branch compensation.
— Pound-for-pound champs? Some firms have more associates than an NFL teams, while others are like great boxers, meaning pound-for-pound they truly pack a punch. This includes Johnson & Blanton at #9 with just four lobbyists on its roster and The Mayernick Group at #19 with a three-lobbyist team. J&B just might be the pound-for-pound champ of Adams Street.
— Who is on the Top 25 list that wasn’t this time last year? Trey Traviesa’s Strategies Public Affairs (#13), Gunter Yoakley & Stewart (#22) Rhett ODoski’s Advantage Consulting (#25)
— Biggest gainers: Among the non-Top 4 firms posting the biggest compensation increases year-over-year are Greenberg Traurig (+$710K), Corcoran & Johnston (+484K), BIR (+408K), Metz Husband & Daughton (+170K)
— Firms on the rise, even if the numbers don’t show it: Sometimes the numbers don’t tell the whole story, but being a sort-of-professional-analyst of the governmental affairs industry in Florida, here are a couple of firms in or near the Top 25 to keep an eye on: The policy wizards at Anfield Consulting (#18) and The Fiorentino Group (#21) whose name partner, Marty Fiorentino, is very close to Lenny Curry, the new mayor of Jacksonville.
August 19, 2015
Top New York Lobbying Firms: Capalino & Company, Suri Kasirer & More
New York is a playing field for many different industries. It’s also home to arguably the largest PR community worldwide. Take a quick look at these following names for New York lobbying companies and learn a few insights about what the City has to offerSuri Kasirer
Suri Kasirer is a graduate of Yeshiva University and now sits as Vice Chair for New York Building Foundation. Suri’s lobbying firm, Kasirer Consulting, provides oversight for Fortune 500 corporations and non-profit groups.
The firm specializes in public affairs, strategic consulting, and government relations. Suri Kasirer has also been listed among the 50 Most Powerful Women in New York as curated by Crain’s New York Business.
New York City and State governments both benefit from the consultancy from this government relations firm. Capalino brings creativity in their approach, as well as a reputation for being “a premier problem-solver.” Lobbying challenges that include securing delivery of government services, resolution of complex policy, and regulatory land use issues is what Capalino+Company does.
Its ties with the City Council and New York City’s Administration is a big part of allowing them to get things done.Hank Sheinkopf
Hank Sheinkopf is nationally known in the political realm and the press. His expertise spans various sectors including public relations and political policy. The list of worldwide campaigns overseen by this political mogul is over 700.
Hank is great at communications strategy and a brilliant strategist.
This firm employs lobbyists from the state of New York. Lobbyists here get intertwined with the Department of Taxation and Finance and the State’s Department of Health; including facets of government and labor.
A main area of focus for Bolton-St. Johns is the healthcare industry by representing numerous unions, institutions, and associations.
Patricia Lynch Associates Inc.
Patricia Lynch Associates was founded in 2001. You can find Patricia’s work and partnership with a Malaysian gambling group named Genting. That was in 2011. In that same year, Patricia Lynch Associates had a total compensation level of $8,128,671.
The Daily Herald
August 20, 2015
Was Des Plaines lobbyist advocating for, and against, gambling expansion?
A lobbyist hired by the city of Des Plaines to advocate against gambling expansion may have been doing just the opposite on behalf of Rockford, according to one alderman.
Now that lobbyist is no longer working for Des Plaines.
Alderman Malcolm Chester, a lobbyist himself, said he believes McGuireWoods Consulting had a conflict of interest in representing both cities before Springfield legislators.
Rockford could be in line for a casino under various gambling expansion proposals that have been floated over the years. Des Plaines, which is home to Rivers Casino, has fought against expansion because it could stand to lose revenues it receives from the casino.
Last year, Des Plaines got $8.8 million from gambling taxes, and more than $1 million in property taxes, food and beverage taxes, licensing and compliance fees, and fines.
McGuireWoods, which had a contract with the city for lobbying services through July 31, isn't seeking a new agreement. Retained by the city since 2012, McGuireWoods was paid $25,200 in its most recent one-year deal.
City Manager Mike Bartholomew said McGuireWoods officials told him they wanted to withdraw their representation of Des Plaines because of a heavy workload in representing a number of other towns.
Chester said he believes the firm withdrew because he wrote a memo raising "a big stink" about the firm representing both towns.
Michael Cassidy, the firm's senior vice president for state government relations, didn't respond to requests for comment.
At Monday's city council meeting, aldermen voted 5-3 to approve a final $2,100 bill for McGuireWoods' July lobbying services.
"I realized we owed them money, but I wanted to make a public statement that we should never have been paying them money in the first place," said Chester, who voted with Dick Sayad and Jack Robinson against the payment.
Alderman Don Smith said he didn't have a problem paying the bill for work already completed.
"It might have been a potential conflict. It may be one of those gray area things where they thought it best to withdraw," Smith said. "I didn't have reason to believe they did anything wrong by us."
Patrick Hayes, Rockford's legal director, confirmed Thursday that McGuireWoods lobbies on Rockford's behalf for gambling expansion and other issues. The firm is paid $10,000 a month.
Chester, who was elected 6th Ward alderman in April, is employed as a lobbyist himself for the Forest County Potawatomi Community, which owns the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Chester said there's no conflict of interest by serving on the city council, since the Potawatomi hold the same position as Des Plaines: no gambling expansion.
Meanwhile, Des Plaines officials are evaluating whether to retain two other lobbying firms who have fought against gambling expansion in Springfield.
Aldermen met behind closed doors Monday night with both, Alfred G. Ronan and Government Consulting Services of Illinois. They also discussed what the city's lobbying strategy should be moving forward as new proposals are introduced in Springfield, Bartholomew said.
It's possible the council may retain both firms, neither, or bring new lobbyists to the mix, he said.