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Lobbying record analysis methodology

‘Capitol Times’ analysis of lobbying records reveals loopholes, reporting gaps and errorsThe Arizona Capitol Times analysis of more than 9,000 lobbyist expenditure records that were filed in 2011 and 2012 included making decisions about what to count, what not to count and how to categorize expenditures. The goal was to evaluate different types of spending and to analyze records showing beneficiaries of the money.

All records filed by lobbyists in their required quarterly reports were counted, except for those records that indicated an expenditure was made “on behalf of” a public or private employer or client. Instead, those expenditure records were counted as they appeared on the public or private clients’ required annual reports. This avoids double-counting expenditures and reflects a choice to count those expenditures as belonging to the entity that the expenditure was made “on behalf of,” even though the original expense may have been incurred by a lobbyist.

This means the analysis assumes proper coordination between lobbyists and their employers or clients, though that may not always be the case. It’s possible that these expenditures do not always match.

The expenditures listed on the annual reports, mentioned above, were added to the lobbyist-produced quarterly reports to arrive at a total lobbying expenditure value, which could then be further dissected and analyzed.

An exception was made for the expenditure records that fell into the category of general compensation for lobbyists employed by public bodies. This category encapsulates the salary paid by a public body to its lobbyist, regardless of the amount of time or energy spent “lobbying” public officials.  When additional costs are incurred by these lobbyists in the course of lobbying, it was reported elsewhere.

The Secretary of State’s Office explained that this category was designated by the Legislature as “lobbyist expenditures” to track what taxpayer dollars are being spent to lobby public officials

The decisions on data analysis were made after in-depth conversations with the Arizona secretary of state’s staff.

During the analysis, numerous errors were discovered in the database, and it is likely that less obvious errors were not identified.

Typographical errors, such as forgetting a decimal, can throw off individual expenditures by thousands of dollars. The value of the errors uncovered during the analysis amounted to about $15,000. Those errors in themselves would not greatly affect the overall analysis of lobbying expenditures, which are in the millions of dollars.

Other errors in the categorization of expenditures amounted to the tens of thousands of dollars. The effect that correcting these errors could have would likely amount to between $300,000 and $800,000.

The bulk of these errors were made by those who filed the reports and went unnoticed by the Secretary of State’s Office. Because the effect of correcting these errors could not be calculated with any degree of certainty, and because they existed in the system when this analysis began, all of the erroneous filings were counted as they were originally filed. This reflects the purpose of this analysis, which was to give a snapshot of the database, including the shortcomings of the overall system.

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