Politics

Statehouse lobbyists earn more than $5.5 million

Lobbyists are on track to hit a record amount of compensation for working the Statehouse this year, with a consumer advocacy group, the state employees’ union and a health care organization leading the way.

More than $5.5 million was paid to the more than 400 lobbyists registered with the Vermont Secretary of State. The most recent reports were filed June 15th. Among the information they show is how much each lobbyist earned up through the end of May. Lobbyists are employed by more than 400 businesses and advocacy groups.

The totals include spending through the final days of the regular session that ended May 19. Another report scheduled to be filed in September will include expenses during the one-day special session on June 21.

The amount lobbyists earned last year at this same time was almost the exact same amount, but increased with the next report, which covered spending after May 30. In 2015, the state changed the dates when reports were filed. Prior to 2015, a report required to be filed in July would capture spending in June. Now, June expenses are shown in the report that will be filed in September.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group spent the most on lobbying in the first five months of this year, $113,739. The consumer advocacy group lobbied on a variety of issues, including tightening the regulation of toxic materials and support for the creation of a state Ethics Commission. They also worked on several issues that either passed one chamber or did not get the attention of lawmakers, such as a proposed carbon tax.

Burns said lobbying is expensive.

“Each year, thousands of Vermonters contribute some of their hard-earned dollars to VPIRG so we can fight for the public interest,” Burns said. “And every day, we’re proud to be making the case on their behalf for clean energy, safe products, affordable health care and government reform. It’s not easy or cheap to take on some of the biggest special interests there are, but that’s exactly what people expect us to do with their money when they join VPIRG.”

Lobbyists for the union representing state workers were second in compensation, at $110,476. Vermont State Employees Association Executive Director Steve Howard said his organization was vigilant this year because of the “great unknown” of new leadership at the Vermont Statehouse as well as the possible impact of federal budget cuts.

“It was important to be ready for anything and we deployed on the offense as much as possible,” Howard said. “It’s the art of trying to figure out between what’s obviously happening and what’s really happening.”

Howard pointed to legislative successes including the unionization of members of the State’s Attorney’s offices, as well as providing support for the teacher’s union, which fought Gov. Phil Scott’s proposal to negotiate health care benefits on the state level.

“What people don’t see in those reports is the grassroots support, our members calling their legislators and emailing them,” he said.

The governor’s proposal on teacher health insurance drew significant legislative attention after it was proposed in April and was the primary reason for the special session in June. The issue was resolved when the governor and legislative leaders agreed on a plan that requires school districts to achieve the savings Scott sought through local negotiations with teachers. The savings must be used to lower property taxes.

Lobbying expenses have generally increased over time. Figures compiled by VTDigger show spending on lobbyists has gone from $3.9 million during the 2011 session to more than $7 million last year. In an effort to accurately reflect what businesses and advocacy groups spent during the session, VTDigger only included compensation for lobbyists. No other expenses, such as advertising, are included.

The Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems spent $105,871, the third highest amount on lobbying.

Jeff Tieman, president and CEO of VAHHS, said his group spent the session focusing on significant health policy, including how to deal with mental health patients waiting in emergency rooms for care and overall Medicaid payments. The Legislature ended up cutting hospitals’ charity care payments by millions of dollars.

“These issues have far-reaching implications for patients, providers and communities,” Tieman said. “As the association representing Vermont’s network of not-for-profit hospitals, we work to be an engaged and constructive voice in the State House. Our work addresses some of the toughest challenges we face as a state and helps to ensure that Vermonters continue to have access to the highest quality care possible.”

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  • Tim Vincent

    VPIRG – a consumer advocacy group?
    THAT’S a stretch.

    • Bruce Wilkie

      VPIRG is the lobbying arm of the industrial wind cartels. You know, the ones that are consuming our small towns and ridgelines in the Northeast Kingdom.

    • Gerry Silverstein

      I think VPIRG is a consumer advocacy group…. it’s just that the consumers they advocate on behalf of represent a subset of all citizens in Vermont. And the organization’s definition of “public interest” is not shared by all Vermonters.
      Vermont suffers from a polarization of views and beliefs…. much like the rest of the nation.

      • waltermoses38

        You give VPIRG way too much credit. Exactly which consumers do they represent? Other than industrial wind, the ridge wreckers.

        • Gerry Silverstein

          Walter, I do not support IWTs on Vermont ridgelines and, in genera,l I find VPIRG to be an organization that is extremely self-centered and believes it knows everything about… well everything.

          That said, I think many citizens in Vermont support and agree with VPIRG. I may not agree with those citizens, but ignoring or denying their beliefs is counter-productive.. my opinion.

  • Peter Chick

    Thank you for the eye opener. Too bad our elected officials could not simply work for the citizens that put them in office.

  • walter carpenter

    “Lobbyists are on pace to earn a record amount working the Statehouse this year, ”

    Much thanks to the digger for this report.

  • Steve Baker

    It’s very easy to see who and why the legislator does what it does in favor of the groups with big lobbying budgets.

  • Gerry Silverstein

    “The Legislature ended up cutting hospitals’ charity care payments by millions of dollars”

    This is good news as Digger has previously reported that Vermont’s uninsured population has declined significantly since the expansion of Medicaid associated with the ACA. In spite of the uninsured rate decline, Vermont hospitals fought hard not to have DSH (charity care) payments reduced, even though this was one of the specific goals of the ACA.

    I have not seen actual numbers of how much of a reduction in DSH payments the Legislature actually agreed to in the budget. If Digger has them please post, or provide a link.

    • Elise Eaton

      Why do people think Medicaid is a rate decline? That cost is passed on to taxpayers and self-insured in one way or another to individuals and companies. I believe Medicaid is rife with fraud and hope there is a county-wide audit or let’s have our state auditor Doug Hoffer, look into how Vermont’s doing. Big Brother offers few if any incentives for people or doctors who treat them to achieve healthier outcomes. In my opinion, having health care is not a constitutional right and the ACA is Big Brother run amok. As reported here by Digger, “The Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems spent $105,871, the third highest amount on lobbying.” Vermont is well on its way to becoming a 3-headed monster which will call all the shots: UVM Medical Center-Copley Hospital-Rutland Regional Medical Center.

  • Edward Letourneau

    The cure is to start voting the liberals and progressives out of office — while we can still afford to live here.

    • Dave Bellini

      The “cure” to what Ed? If the legislature were 100% republican there would still be lobbyists. Lobbyists work with whoever sits in the chair.

    • Dominic Cotignola

      And what would we have, a one party ruler like those in the Middle East countries and the rest of the world. That wouldn’t be fair to the majority of liberals in the country and this State. Would it. Civil wars take care of this kind of talk and we don’t want to be fighting Russia on American soil.

      Seriously, if you throw out this accusation, please give us a figure as to what is your affordability amount to live here in VT needs to be?

      • Tim Vincent

        Vermont has had one-party rule (actually one and a half – far left and far far left) for decades.
        Legislators, for the most part, are in “safe” seats and have no obligation to the voters who unthinkingly reelect them.

  • Lobbyists should not be allowed to communicate with legislators or the governor’s staff other than in legislative sessions. That way there is full disclosure to what is discussed and there is no behind the scenes deal making.

  • Dave Bellini

    “…compete with…” “buy access..” In Vermont politicians provide access for citizens. How many times have you tried to communicate with your elected representative ? Of those times. how often did they refuse to speak to you?
    The great thing about Vermont is that the whole state is a small town.

  • Rich Lachapelle

    Bad enough that a boatload of PUBLIC/TAXPAYER money is continually funneled into public sector unions, but then the insult to injury is having some of that used to pay lobbyists to push policies in the legislature which are further injurious to the interests of working Vermonters. Elections have consequences.

    • Tim Vincent

      Elections have yet to have any consequences in Vermont, the sandbox for the far left.

  • Dominic Cotignola

    Wish I had a lobbyist. Oh wait, we do. Let me check, nope I don’t.