Throughout Arizona’s Legislative session, dozens of lobbyists roam the hallways of each chamber, making phone calls, sending text messages, coordinating and communicating with clients and trying to set up appointments to persuade lawmakers to vote their clients’ wills.
But a small number of lobbyists spend much more money on lawmakers than the rest. And a select set of lawmakers attract more lobbying attention than others. Lobbying records required by state law hint at who these power brokers are, and give a peek into a small network of lobbyists, their clients and lawmakers who wield extra influence.
An Arizona Capitol Times analysis shows that about half of the $1.05 million reported on lobbyists’ 2011-2012 quarterly reports was spent by 14 lobbyists or lobbying firms. A group of about 20 lawmakers accounted for more than one third of the $196,000 spending that listed a beneficiary in the lobbying records during the same period.
The records provide insight into lobbying patterns despite substantial flaws in the reporting system. The Capitol Times analysis revealed that the more than 90 percent of lobbying dollars are reported without listing a beneficiary. The analysis found that several reports contained incorrect expenditure amounts, in part because of typographical errors.
But the reports do provide a comprehensive look at which lobbyists are spending the most money at the Capitol. And even the slice of reports that list beneficiaries sheds some light on which lawmakers are most targeted by lobbyists.
The analysis ranked lobbyists, their clients and lawmakers by using the number of transactions and the total amount of money spent or received. The goal was to get a fuller picture of the amount of influence wielded at the Capitol. Transactions can range from a cup of coffee to a cross-country trip.
Lobbyists and their clients
Public Policy Partners ranked at the top of the list of influential lobbyists in 2011 and 2012. According to lobbyists’ quarterly reports, the firm recorded more lobbying transactions than any other lobbyist or firm, with 582 individual transactions and a total of $17,000 spent. The vast majority of that spending comes with no beneficiaries listed. Some key clients include Maricopa County, Arizona Technology Council, Magellan Health Services, Public Safety Personnel Retirement System and Motorola Solutions.
|Rank based on transaction count and total amount received||Lobbyist/Lobbying Firm||Transaction count||Total amount spent on lobbying|
|1||Public Policy Partners||582||$17,445.65|
|2||Isaacson & Moore P C||372||$26,489.16|
|3||Molly K. Greene||299||$19,343.62|
|4||Charles S. “Steve” Miller||103||$48,896.36|
|5||R & R Partners||123||$34,723.91|
|7||Law Offices of John K. Mangum PC||128||$22,106.73|
|9||Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck||162||$11,514.56|
|12||Charles R. Bassett||46||$26,807.02|
|16||Policy Development Group Inc.||209||$3,611.69|
|17||Russell D Smoldon||40||$15,914.46|
|19||KRB Consulting Inc.||166||$3,421.08|
Andrea Smiley, spokeswoman for Public Policy Partners, said her firm is highly focused on building relationships at the Capitol, and that the numbers appear to reflect that.
“We’re really proud of the relationships that we have with public officials,” Smiley said. “Building strong relationships is something we work very hard to do.”
Smiley wouldn’t go so far as to say her firm wields more power at the Capitol than others, but that its efforts pay off in effective advocacy for clients.
Isaacson & Moore comes in next with 372 individual transactions and $26,000 spent during the same period. Some of the firm’s key clients include Amazon, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District and Sprint Nextel.
Greg Patterson, now a member of the Arizona Board of Regents, who lobbies for the Water Utilities Association of Arizona, spent $64,000.
|Rank based on transaction count and total amount received||Lobbying Organization||Transaction count||Total amount spent on lobbying|
|2||Arizona State University||93||$48,868.66|
|3||League of Arizona Cities and Towns||207||$16,214.00|
|4||Salt River Project||146||$22,261.74|
|5||Central Arizona Water Conservation District||19||$104,518.33|
|6||Arizona Chamber of Commerce||64||$29,957.95|
|7||Pinnacle West Capital Corporation||157||$10,414.19|
|9||Pima County Attorney’s Office||7||$101,396.44|
|10||AZ Food Marketing Alliance||22||$29,434.75|
|11||Eastern Arizona College||7||$86,225.91|
|12||Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Arizona||21||$26,807.02|
|14||University of Arizona||32||$15,851.68|
|15||Arizona Association of Community Managers (AACM)||10||$48,348.12|
|16||Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold Inc||45||$10,376.98|
|17||Arizona Citizens Defense League Inc||12||$30,393.64|
|18||Arizona Association of Realtors||13||$24,209.09|
|19||AZ Rock Products Association||12||$25,575.94|
|20||Barrett-Jackson Auction Company LLC||1||$295,000.00|
Some lobbyists who represent just one client, such as Intel Corporation lobbyist Jason Bagley, spend much more than lobbyists who represent many clients.
Bagley outspent every other lobbyist or lobbying firm with $107,000, but in only 15 transactions.
Looking at all the activity reported by lobbying entities on their annual reports, several familiar names appear at the top of the list.
Maricopa County comes in No. 1 with $467,000 reported lobbying spending in 2011 and 2012, excluding any general compensation paid to their employee lobbyists.
Arizona State University, another public body, follows next, with $49,000 spent during the same period, but with almost four times as many transactions.
The League of Arizona Cities and Towns comes in third, with $16,000 spent lobbying, but in 207 individual transactions that list 78 beneficiaries. A handful of transactions list no beneficiary.
Salt River Project, with $22,000 in 146 transactions; the Central Arizona Water Conservation District with $216,000 in 48 transactions’ and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce with $30,000 in 64 transactions follow.
For the most part, the list of lawmakers who received the most reported attention from lobbyists in 2011 and 2012 comprises Republican leadership and committee chairmen. Nearly all of the lawmakers and lobbyists interviewed for this story say there’s nothing surprising about that.
Using the same ranking based on transaction count and sum of lobbying dollars spent, in 2011 and 2012 records that list a beneficiary, House Speaker Andy Tobin tops the list, followed by former Rep. Amanda Reeve, Sen. John McComish, Sen. Don Shooter and Rep. David Gowan.
• Tobin received $4,295 in 45 transactions.
• Reeve, who was the chair of the House Environment Committee both years, received $2,907 in 60 transactions.
• McComish, who was chair of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee both years, received $3,771 in 41 transactions.
• Shooter, who was chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee in 2012, received $2,534 in 48 transactions.
• Gowan, was chair of the House Military Affairs and Public Safety both years, received $2,235 in 50 transactions.
Only two out of the top 20 most lobbied lawmakers in 2011 and 2012 were Democrats: House Minority Leader Chad Campbell and then-Rep., now Sen. Anna Tovar. Campbell received $1,174 in 16 transactions and Tovar received $1,502 in 12 transactions
|Rank based on transaction count and total amount received||Lawmaker||Transaction count||Total amount spent on lobbying|
Tobin said the $4,295 that lobbyists reported spending on him in the past two years isn’t much, as it equates to about $40 per week, mostly in meals paid for by lobbyists who want to discuss business they have before the Legislature. As the speaker of the House, he is obligated to attend events such as benefit dinners or speaking engagements that often inflate those numbers, he said.
Tobin joked that, considering how often he is invited to talk business with lobbyists, he should start eating at fancier restaurants.
Republican Rep. Tom Forese of Chandler said he is listed as a beneficiary so often because he tries to listen to everyone, even if he vehemently disagrees with them. In the end, though, he said lobbyists never sway him with a dinner or other purchases, and only if they have good points or ideas. He said he knows lobbyists are trying to sway him, but he said the idea that he would compromise his values for a free lunch is ridiculous.
“In business, for years, the way that you get business done is at the ballgame or different events. And you have an expense account to take other people out, but that doesn’t mean they do business with you,” he said.
He said once in a great while, someone will cross the line and insinuate that there might be perks if he votes in their favor.
“I’m so stern with them that they never make that mistake again. Like, ‘You crossed the line,’” he said.
Former Senate President Steve Pierce ranked No. 13 in lobbying activity, much lower than most committee chairmen, but he said that’s because he goes out of his way to pay his way when an expenditure would otherwise be picked up by a lobbyist.
“I just believe in doing it that way,” Pierce said.
Campbell said although a dinner or drinks never sway him, the mere appearance of a conflict of interest has led him to introduce a bill to ban lobbyist gifts several times, though the bills never become law.
Campbell said he sees value in meeting with a lobbyist over a cup of coffee or sandwich to discuss ideas, but the free trips, junkets and tickets are too much.
“I’ve always said there are reasonable things you can do. You can make certain exemptions for things like a cup of coffee or lunch or whatever, but in terms of the tricks and all that, the easiest thing to do is just ban gifts. That would clear this up and ensure confidence with the public and ensure there are no shenanigans going on,” he said.
Campbell said lawmakers can take some educational trips that can be paid out of their constituent services accounts. Although lobbyists are allowed to donate to lawmakers’ constituent service accounts, there is a strict $150 cap and more transparency in the system, he said.
He noted that currently, if he goes to an event, he has no idea what amount of money the lobbyists might report as benefiting him.
Arizona lawmakers earn $24,000 per year, plus per diem.
The network graph below shows which lobbying entities, represented in blue, are connected to the 20 most-lobbied lawmakers, represented in yellow. The size of each represents the amount of money spent or received. Those closest to the center have the most connection with others. Hover over, or drag any lawmaker or lobbying entity to explore how they are connected. Add or remove more lobbying entities or lawmakers by adjusting the number of nodes. Zoom in and out using the plus and minus buttons.
The power structure
Opinions among lawmakers and lobbyists differ as to whether figures in the lobbying reports reflect the true core of Arizona’s legislative power structure.
Veteran lobbyist Don Isaacson of Isaacson & Moore, whose spending and transactions rank second from the top, said he doesn’t like the notion that he wields influence over lawmakers. But he does believe that successfully advocating for his clients means putting in lots of time and energy.
It also requires sometimes spending money, he said. But when it comes to influence, that’s only part of the overall picture.
“I don’t think money drives the outcome,” Isaacson said.
Meeting with lawmakers throughout the year is what produces success, he said.
“Our clients will tell you that we tell them the session ends on the first day of the next session,” Isaacson said.
Barry Aarons, principal lobbyist with the Aarons Company and another longtime lobbyist with deep ties with the Legislature, didn’t show up in the top ranking of transaction volume and expenditure summaries. He said it’s more valuable to spend time developing relationships with lawmakers before they even get elected.
“I spend a lot of time with these lawmakers when they’re candidates,” Aarons said.
That way, it doesn’t take dinners, drinks or free trips to begin building relationships.
Marcus Dell’Artino, a lobbyist with FirstStrategic Communications and Public Affairs, also didn’t rank high in transaction volume and total spending. He said the real measure of lobbyists’ influence is their ability to sit and meet with lawmakers without having to rack up pricy restaurant bills.
“The most important meetings are the ones that happen in (a lawmaker’s) office,” Dell’Artino said. “And those don’t show up in expenditure reports.”
*Maricopa County’s reported lobbying expenses are significantly higher than those of other governmental entities because the state’s lobbying database incorrectly lists the salaries of its lobbyists as general lobbying expenses. In an effort to show how much was being spent directly to influence legislators and other government officials, our analysis filtered out the salaries of other government lobbyists. If Maricopa County’s lobbying records correctly categorized those expenses as salaries, our analysis would have shown that the county spent only $3,933.73 on lobbying efforts in 2011 and 2012.
EDITORS NOTE: This is the second in a three-part series exploring the state’s lobbying activity and lobbying reporting system. Next week, the series will explore the changes some say will improve the system and what it would take to make those changes.
DISCLOSURE: The Arizona Capitol Times, as part of Arizona News Service, reported $3,730 in lobbying activity in 2011 and 2012. Lobbying activity reported by the Arizona Capitol Times is attributable to annual events that all lawmakers are invited to attend. These include the Best of the Capitol Awards, Women in Public Policy panel, Rock the Capitol and Leaders of the Year Awards. The lobbying activity is categorized as special event spending, which does not list individual beneficiaries.