The lawmakers who have taken an oath to represent their constituents are the only ones who vote on legislation, but they’re not the only ones making things happen in the Statehouse every spring – and they’re definitely not the highest-paid.
In filings with the Vermont Secretary of State, all parties who employ lobbyists in the state disclosed how much they paid for those services. The filings also have information about money spent on advertising, telemarketing and other efforts, but here, we're focusing just on lobbyist compensation. For a full look at the data, check out the Secretary of State's lobbying information system.
The 239 lobbyists active in Vermont made more than $3 million between January 1 and March 31 of this year, paid out by about 300 employers with interests ranging from a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to paint. (Seriously. The American Coatings Association, which you can find at paint.org, spent $12,000.)
If spending represents speech, as the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in the Citizens United decision, here’s who’s doing the talking under the golden dome:
The top 10 lobbyist employers paid out nearly half a million dollars combined ($485,402.64) to have their interests represented in the Statehouse. Here’s who they are:
- Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, Inc. ($101,376.00)
- Vermont Public Interest Research Group ($95,070.85)
- Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee ($45,330.00)
- GunSense Vermont, Inc. ($41,431.00)
- Green Mountain Power ($36,159.50)
- Vermont Energy Investment Corporation ($35,281.486)
- Bi-State Primary Care Association, Inc. ($35,216.39)
- JB Kennedy Associates, LLC ($32,819.00)
- Vermont NEA ($31,767.92)
- Vermont State Dental Society ($30,950.50)
Those big spenders represent some of the major political causes of the year, including the push for more restrictions on firearms ownership in Vermont, the many health-care related movements such as publicly-funded health care and energy interests that will be affected by the state’s moves toward renewable energy.
Every time the Legislature meets, a few issues emerge as the most contentious. This year, those hotly debated issues included restrictions on firearms ownership, a tax on sugary drinks and the potential removal of the “philosophical exemption” that allows parents to opt out of mandatory vaccination for their school-age children. All of those issues had moneyed interests on both sides – even if some had deeper pockets than others.
Political funding became part of the discussion in this year’s debate over gun control, with gun rights advocates claiming Gun Sense Vermont (the gun control group) did not represent Vermonters’ interests because it was funded by out-of-state groups.
The gun rights crowd had help from out of state as well, with the National Rifle Association pitching in $12,071.76, more than 20 percent of the $49,189.08 that was spent by pro-gun groups. The American Suppressor Association, which lobbies for the legalization of suppressors (sometimes known as silencers) for guns, also chipped in about $700.
On the other side, Gun Sense Vermont and the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund (a project of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg) paid a combined total of $51,564.70 lobbying for tighter firearms restrictions.
The gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund also spent $65,818.30 on an advertising campaign designed to drum up public support for new gun regulations in Vermont, though that money was not paid to lobbyists.
The effort to tax sugar-sweetened beverages isn't looking likely to pass this year, and it shows in the spending reports. Proponents of the tax paid out between $10,000 and $20,000 to lobbyists - many groups contributed a small amount of their lobbying efforts to the cause, while the main advocates reported just over $10,000 in spending on the issue. The opposition vastly outspent them.
The biggest spender on either side of the sugary-sweetened beverage issue was the Beverage Association of Vermont, which paid lobbyists $25,050 to oppose the tax. After them, the money kept flowing: Vermont Retail & Grocers Association ($21,015), Vermont Wholesale Beverage Association ($19,638.13), and the American Beverage Association ($16,000).
In total, those groups paid lobbyists at least four times more than the pro-tax groups. In addition, the American Beverage Association spent $378,405.23 on advertising, $64,481.33 on telemarketing and $70,250.54 in "other" expenses.
Lobbyists For All
While IBM may be on its way out of Vermont with the sale of its chip division, and Entergy with the closure of Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, neither company has abandoned its efforts to keep tabs on the Statehouse.
Entergy spent $45,330 on lobbyists from Jan. 1 to March 31, even though Vermont Yankee didn’t produce a single watt of electricity this year, and never will again. The company is still on the hook for decommissioning the plant and making sure the site is safe, a process that could take decades.
IBM, for its part, spent $30,684.21 even though the company has agreed to sell its chip division (which operates a plant in Essex Junction) to GlobalFoundries. That company was notably absent from the list of lobbyist employers.
Another outgoing company, Intrado, was near the top of the list of big spenders. Intrado operates the state’s Enhanced 911 system, but officials selected FairPoint Communications to take over that contract this summer. Despite that move, Intrado paid lobbyists $25,195 in the beginning of this year.
Contractors working on Vermont Health Connect also paid lobbyists to represent them in the Statehouse. Optum, the company that took over for CGI to develop the system, spent $16,200 on lobbyists while Maximus and Exeter (two IT companies working on the exchange as well) spent more than $20,000.
National tobacco interests were also a big spender early this year in the Statehouse. Altria, a cigarette company, spent $22,264.20. RAI Services, Inc., a subsidiary of R.J. Reynolds, spent $16,333.32. Both the Senate and the House are considering plans to raise the tax on cigarettes.
In case it’s not clear by now, just about any company or group with interests in Vermont pays lobbyists to keep track of legislation and make sure their interests are represented. Even some companies without Vermont operations put up money to influence the debate. Bank of America paid lobbyists more than $4,000, and doesn’t even have branches in Vermont.
Update 5:58 p.m. April 28, 2015: This article was updated to include some information about non-lobbyist spending by Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and the American Beverage Association.