On 2013 lobbying expenditures: Total so far between $14.5 million and $35.4 million

An insurance company, an education reform organization and a telelecommunications giant are leaders this year in the three categories of expenditures on state lobbying reported to the Tennessee Ethics Commission.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee reported paying $450,000 in compensation to its eight registered lobbyists during the first six months of 2013, the highest amount reported. Altogether, 673 companies and associations reported payments to lobbyists totaling somewhere between $12.75 million and $26.4 million.

In most cases, state law requires that lobbyist employers report only a “range” of compensation paid, such as between mployers of lobbyists reported payments, such as between $50,000 and $100,000 without a precise figure. Only when payments are more than $400,000 – as in the case of Blue Cross – is a specific figure reported.

Tennessee Federation for Children, which pushed for passage of a school voucher system and other legislation it sees as education reform, and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association both reported between $100,000 and $150,000 in lobbying-related expenditures. Altogether, lobbyist employers spent somewhere between $1.2 million and $8.6 million on lobbying-related matters, according to reports filed with the Commission.

Tennessee Federation for Children spokeswoman Kimberly Kump said the organization’s lobbying-related money was spent on “television ads and grassroots communications throughout the state” in support of “educational choice.”

The Associated Press reported in March that Federation officials planned for up to $800,000 in spending on radio and television advertising in support of legislation. Asked why the amount of such spending reported to the Ethics Commission was considerably less than estimated expectations reported in the media earlier, Kump said, “We do not talk about our budget on the record.”

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association was active in opposing a bill – which did not pass – that would have required a prescription for medications containing pseudophedrine, which can be used in the illegal manufacture of meth. The association retained the Nashville public relations firm of McNeeley, Pigott and Fox.

A request to the Consumer Healthcare Products Assocation for an explanation of the lobbyist-related spending brought only this response via email from Elizabeth Funderburk, Senior Director for Communications & Public Affairs:

“CHPA is committed to ensuring that those who would be impacted by a prescription requirement have a platform to voice their position with their respective elected officials.”

The most expensive entertainment event for legislators hosted by an employer of lobbyists this year was AT&T’s welcoming reception for the 2013 legislative session, held in January. It cost $25,159, AT&T reported.

Overall, employers of lobbyist have reported spending $569,963 on food, beverages and entertainment at events attended by legislators so far this year.

That includes 79 of the 88 events reported so far this year. The other nine have filed a report stating they planned an event, as required by law, but have not yet filed the followup report on how much was spent.

The total already exceeds spending on lobbyist events during all of 2012, when the total for 73 events was $565,318.

In all three categories combined, total lobbying spending for the year so far is between $14.5 million and $35.4 million. Lobbying expenses are typically lower in the second half of the year because the Legislature is out of session.

Lobbyist compensation reported for the first six months of this year was almost identical to compensation reported during the first half of 2012. Lobbyist-related expenditures were down somewhat – between $530,000 and $1.1 million, using the low range and high-range figures.

Mary Danielson, a spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, said the health insurance company views lobbying as an “advocacy role we have on behalf of our members” with the goal of “educating lawmakers on the impact of their decisions.”

Several bills impacting the insurance industry were under consideration during the legislative session, including measures that impacting the federal Affordable Care Act. One bill that failed would have prohiibited Medicaid expansion in Tennessee – even if Gov. Bill Haslam ultimately decides to push some form of expansion – and another defeated bill would have prohibited Tennessee insurance companies from participating in the federal program.