$25 Million And Counting
Lobbyists spent $25 million this year trying to push their issues over the legislative finish line, according to reports filed with the Office of State Ethics.
While the spending and the lobbying is far from over in the absence of a state budget, one of the most expensive efforts this year centered around the state’s decision to expand gaming.
MMCT Venture LLC — the joint tribal business entity that won final legislative approval on the last night of the regular session to open a third casino in East Windsor — spent $574,659. The two tribes that make up that entity also spent money. The Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority spent $76,800 and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe/Foxwoods Resort Casino spent $21,987.
MGM Resorts International Operations Inc., which tried mightily to derail the tribal casino, spent $1.68 million. The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation of Kent Connecticut Inc., which was also hoping to open the bidding for a third casino, spent $31,717.
In the end the tribes won the high-stakes battle, but Uri Clinton, senior vice president and legal counsel for MGM Resorts International, has promised to sue. That means the lobbying battle between the two sides is likely to continue in the months and possibly years ahead.
In what was described as a “sweetener” to get lawmakers to give the tribes permission to build a third casino, Sportech Inc., which operates the off-track betting facilities in the state, was able to get legislation that allows them to expand their operations from 18 to 24 facilities. Sportech spent about $53,482 on its lobbying efforts, but Malloy hasn’t hinted yet as to whether he’s willing to sign that legislation.
The Connecticut Hospital Association, which has become a target of the Malloy administration in recent years, spent $855,169. The association has been lobbying against changes to the tax structure the governor proposed as part of his budget in February. The proposal would allow cities and towns for the first time to tax hospital property.
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association, which played a much bigger role in past years, worked largely behind the scenes on several issues and spent $476,839. At least $71,000 of that was on paid media.
The Connecticut Association of Realtors Inc., which held a big rally in Bushnell Park featuring UConn women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma, spent $539,664 on trying to get the General Assembly to give them a state they can sell.
Aside from casino gaming and real estate, one of the hottest topics of debate this year was legalizing recreational marijuana even though less than $35,000 was spent on lobbying the issue.
The Marijuana Policy Project spent $14,537. The CT Pharmacists Association Academy of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries spent $12,762, and the CT Medical Cannabis Council spent about $5,800. Medical marijuana is already legal in Connecticut and there are more than 18,000 individuals licensed to purchase it for 22 medical conditions.
Municipalities and their lobbying groups played a large part this year as a result of the governor’s budget proposal, which would reduce the $5.1 billion in state aid they receive.
The Connecticut Council of Small Towns spent $80,548 and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities spent about $401,370 on their lobbying efforts. It remains to be seen whether those efforts have paid off, since the General Assembly has failed to adopt a budget.
In a state with one of the highest electricity rates in the continental United States, energy issues also played a large role.
Dominion Energy, which owns the Millstone Nuclear plant in Waterford, spent $928,176 trying to convince the legislature to allow the company to bid directly on energy contracts. The legislation was watered down before it passed the Senate, but the House failed to raise it on the last night of the regular legislative session.
Calpine Corporation, Dynegy, NRG Energy, and the Electric Power Supply Association, which own mostly natural gas-fired power plants, teamed up to lobby against Dominion, but their financial efforts were much smaller. Calpine Energy Solutions LLC spent $14,544, Dynegy spent $97,875, NRG Energy spent $200,036, and the Electric Power Supply Association spent $36,514 this year.
Eversource, formerly Northeast Utilities, also opposed the Millstone legislation and spent about $382,486 on lobbying lawmakers this year.
Consumers for Sensible Energy, which is a group fighting the expansion natural gas pipelines, spent $254,175 this year. Most of it, or about $178,000, was spent on paid media.
On a somewhat smaller scale, the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association spent $125,212 on lobbying against legislation that would allow Tesla Motors Inc. to open up retail locations in Connecticut and sell their electric vehicles directly to consumers. Tesla spent about $99,665 in its third attempt to get the legislation passed. The legislation never got called for a vote in the House this year even though it has passed that chamber in the past.
But hope springs eternal with a special legislative session. It’s possible the Tesla bill could be included in a budget implementer because it could bring in a small amount of revenue to the state.