Nearly everyone in Massachusetts felt the pinch of the recession in 2009 — even Beacon Hill lobbyists had to tighten their belts.
The 25 biggest lobbying firms in the state (those who work on behalf of multiple clients) collected just under $25 million in lobbying fees last year — roughly a million dollars less than in 2008, according to a Phoenix review of disclosure reports.
And the top 25 spenders (companies and associations trying to wield influence) shelled out roughly $10.5 million on lobbying salaries and expenses, down from about $12 million in 2008.
But if you looked closely at the special-interests with a lot at stake under the Golden Dome last year, there was still plenty of money being thrown around.
Atop that list of splurgers was the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), which spent $1.3 million on lobbying activity in 2009. That's a whopping 75 percent increase over 2008 — making it the number-one spender on lobbying last year.
The MTA had a busy, busy 2009. Early on, it fought to maintain local education funding in the state budget — and to raise sales taxes to provide the revenue. It even spent $22,000 on a radio ad to aid in that battle, which it ultimately won.
As the year went on, the MTA lobbied on a number of proposals, including pension and lobbying reform — but really went into overdrive against Governor Deval Patrick's education-reform legislation. Despite the teachers' best efforts, that bill was signed into law a few weeks ago, and it included many of the charter-school and underperforming-school provisions the MTA opposed.
You win some, you lose some. Or, for some other interests, you lose and then step up your game so you win next time.
That's what Sterling Suffolk did in 2009. The company owns Suffolk Downs race track in East Boston, which it hopes to develop into a resort casino.
After the defeat of a casino bill in 2008, Sterling Suffolk doubled down, almost literally, by increasing its lobbying expenses 80 percent in 2009, to $788,000. That included some $250,000 spent to create and promote the Massachusetts Coalition for Jobs and Growth Web site, plus other "grassroots" pro-casino marketing, in preparation for an expected battle over casinos in the first few months of 2010.
On the flip side of the lobbying coin, spending decreased sharply among energy companies, which pushed hard in 2008 for favorable language and implementation of that year's Green Communities Act. Conectiv Energy, for instance, spent a half-million dollars on lobbying in 2008, but just $45,000 in 2009.
Similarly, Commerce Insurance spent nearly a million dollars on lobbying in 2008 — the year auto-insurance reforms were instituted. In 2009, the company's lobbying tab dropped by 75 percent.
And in 2008, the number-one lobbyer was the Massachusetts Nursing Association (MNA), which came tantalizingly close to passing its long-desired staffing-requirement bill. That effort went to the legislative back-burner in 2009 — and MNA's lobbying expenses dropped from $1.6 million to $400,000.