NJ: More bucks spent on lobbying, or is it just more disclosure?

Posted on March 9, 2007 - 10:25pm.

from: Asbury Park Press

More bucks spent on lobbying, or is it just more disclosure?

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 03/9/07


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TRENTON — Money spent on lobbying in New Jersey nearly doubled last year, as state leaders grappled with the beleaguered budget, tried to reform a tax system that has yielded the nation's highest property tax bills and voted to allow competition for cable TV services.

According to figures released Thursday by the Election Law Enforcement Commission, $54.8 million was spent on lobbying in 2006 — up from $28.9 million in 2005. The 2006 figure more than equals the previous two years combined.

The total pushes New Jersey's national ranking for lobbying spending from 10th to fourth, still about $100 million behind third-place New York, said Leah Rush, director of state projects for the Center for Public Integrity.

But the apparent increase is skewed somewhat by a new state law that expanded reporting requirements and has greatly added to the number of registered lobbyists, from 647 at the end of 2005 to 1,010.

Now, spending on grass-roots lobbying — including television commercials and lobbying on things like contracts, rate-setting and penalties — must be reported.

ELEC Executive Director Frederick M. Herrmann had no figures but said the large spike can be attributed to new reporting requirements.

"It shows that we're getting a lot of disclosure, which is a good thing," Herrmann said.

The expanded disclosure means 2006 creates a new baseline from which to compare lobbying spending in New Jersey.

"More information is better when it comes to finding out what's going on behind the scenes in government," Rush said.

For the fourth straight year, the Princeton Public Affairs Group was the top earner among contract lobbyists, but saw its earnings drop from $8.1 million to $7.9 million.

One of the largest increases was the amount spent on communication, which grew by $5 million, largely fueled by the new requirements, Verizon's attempt to get a statewide cable franchise and cable companies' attempt to block it.

Verizon and another group lobbying to ease cable restrictions spent more than $3 million on communications and more than $5 million total on lobbying. The New Jersey Cable Telecommunications Association, Comcast and Cablevision spent $364,000 on communications aimed at keeping the status quo and about $1.4 million in total lobbying.

Missing from those numbers are about $4 million worth of ads that cable companies ran on cable systems, which didn't have to be reported because there was no money exchanged, said Mark Nevins, spokesman for the cable association.

The law, which ultimately went Verizon's way, helped spur more than $6 million in lobbying spending, not including cable's unreported $4 million worth of ads.

In 2005, groups with a stake in the measure spent $1.5 million, but no mass advertising had to be reported.

( categories: NEW JERSEY | State Franchises | Verizon )