So-called hell week, the annual spate of fundraisers before the start of the legislative session, may get more hellish for lobbyists because of new campaign finance rules that allow contributors to give far more money.
Under HB2593, individuals can now give up to $4,000 to legislative candidates instead of the old limit of $440. The bill also eliminates the aggregate cap on the amount of money individuals can give, which had been set at $6,390 for the 2014 campaign cycle.
Lobbyists are already dreading the flood of lawmakers who will have their hands out once the new limits go into effect.
“I burned a candle in sadness at the limits that protected my bank account that are now gone,” joked lobbyists Stan Barnes, founder of Copper State Consulting Group.
Gibson McKay, the founder and owner of the lobbying firm Sherpa Public Affairs, took a similarly humorous but grim view of the situation.
“My wife will be very disappointed as they open up the limits,” McKay said. “It’s kind of like being in a car wreck and being happy that you got a concussion instead of a brain injury. It’s not fatal but it’s miserable.”
But jokes aside, Barnes and McKay weren’t sure the new limits would lead them to write bigger checks. Many lobbyists don’t give the maximum amount now, and they’re not all of a sudden going to start writing $4,000 checks just because they can.
For example, McKay gave to about two dozen elected officials in the 2012 cycle, but most of the contributions ranged from $100 to $200. He said most people only have so much money that they can afford to give.
“I think it will be tempered just by people’s availability to contribute,” he said. “The jury’s out. I don’t know. I’m not going to write bigger checks. I’m just going to do what I’ve always done.”
Barnes gave numerous maximum contributions last cycle, but still said he doesn’t expect to be writing four-figure checks for 2014.
“Lobbyists have the wrong reputation,” Barnes said. “Lobbyists generally have a reputation as big contributors. But lobbyists, in my 25 years’ experience, are generally pretty cheap and stingy about who they contribute to, mainly because there are 90 different legislators, nine different congressmen, two different senators, one different governor, all of which want money. So there’s got to be a lot of love spread around. That can get real expensive real fast if you treated everyone that called you equally.”
The bigger problem for lobbyists may be the elimination of the aggregate cap. Lobbyists may not write bigger checks, but they’ll likely have to write more of them now that lawmakers and other elected officials know that they can give to as many people as they want.
“The aggregate cap, I used to rely on that,” McKay said. “‘Sorry, I’m tapped out.’ That’s a killer. As you come into this realm of no caps and that kind of thing, it becomes more difficult,” McKay said.
Critics of the new campaign limits argue that the law will give people more of an ability to buy favor with politicians, and lobbyists’ tendency to give checks to scores of lawmakers has further stoked those fears.
“The candidates that are in competitive districts are going to be raising a lot more money, and they’re going to be beholden to the sources of that campaign cash,” said Sam Wercinski, executive director of the progressive Arizona Advocacy Network.
McKay, however, said he doesn’t think the new limits will allow lobbyists to buy influence.
“If you really want to influence an election, go do yourself an independent expenditure,” he said.