Lobbying groups spend less


Media General News Service


Lobbying organizations pulled in their horns trying to influence legislation in the 2002 General Assembly session, reports filed with the secretary of the commonwealth’s office show.

Although the final figures are not in, total spending on lobbying was well below the record total in 2001, the reports show.

Spending for the period from May 1, 2001, through April 30, 2002, totaled $10.3 million, almost $2 million less than the previous year’s total.

Chris Frink, lobbying specialist for the secretary of the commonwealth’s office, said about 120 organizations had not filed lobbying reports by the July 1 deadline, so the total will grow. Each of the organizations will be fined at least $50.

While the 120 procrastinators may seem large, they are only a small portion of the 1,775 people who registered to lobby the 140 legislators, he noted.

Legislators were preoccupied with a huge budget crunch, so they avoided many of the high-profile issues that traditionally create major lobbying efforts.

Even so, that didn’t stop lobbying groups from investing money and charm in receptions and private dinner sessions with legislators while the assembly was in town.

Now embattled WorldCom, a newcomer to the top 10 lobbying list, for example, counted $16,318 in entertainment spending among its $91,068 in lobbying costs. On Jan. 12, the night before the inauguration of Gov. Mark R. Warner, WorldCom plunked down about $9,100 for food and beverages for 16 senators and 50 members of the House of Delegates attending a preinaugural dinner.

WorldCom also picked up the $1,210 tab for legislators and staff members attending a conference on July 15, 2001, in Savannah, Ga.

The company has a large presence in Virginia, mostly in Northern Virginia, and recently laid off 1,300 workers in the state. It is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

WorldCom’s interest, as stated on its lobbying form, was “all matters relating to telecommunications interests in Virginia.”

Newport News Shipbuilding introduced legislators and members of the Warner administration to its new owner, Northrop Grumman Corp., at a dinner-reception at the Omni Hotel on Feb. 7. The cost was $6,990.

Wawa, the convenience-store chain that fought successfully against a bill sought by independent gas station owners that would have put a floor under its gasoline prices, took eight Republican legislators and one independent to Old Original Bookbinder’s restaurant in Shockoe Bottom during the closing week of the session. The tab came to $2,609.

Wawa and fellow low-price gas retailer Sheetz spent $53,325 and $25,000 respectively on lobbying.

The Virginia Automobile Dealers Association, traditionally one of the most active lobbying groups, paid the food and lodging expenses of state Sen. Martin E. Williams, R-Newport News, to a convention in Hershey, Pa. The tab for three officials and Williams came to $5,300. Williams is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, which handles legislation of interest to the auto dealers.

The auto dealers also sponsored a golf tournament at the Royal New Kent Golf Club in September 2001. Seven legislators were invited, but only one Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, D-Richmond, an avid golfer, attended.

The lobbying leader, with an expenditure of $143,868, was the Virginia Association of Realtors. The VAR’s total paled in comparison with the 2001 leader, the Virginia Hospital and Health Care Association, which spent $1,070,000, mostly on a television-advertising campaign promoting deregulation of the health-care industry. Deregulation legislation failed in the 2001 assembly session.

The health-care organization spent just $57,000 in 2002.

Paramount’s Kings Dominion, the theme-park company that for years has backed legislation that prohibits public schools from opening before Labor Day, reported giving eight legislators tickets for their families to the park.

A spokesman for the Virginia Association of Realtors said the organization is the largest trade-advocacy group in the state, with 23,000 members, so it usually is one of the leaders in lobbying costs.

Robert Authier, the chief executive officer, said the real estate group was interested in promoting affordable housing and in fighting slow-growth efforts during the 2002 session.

Dominion Resources, the second biggest spender on lobbying, sent 19 lobbyists to the assembly. But its expenditures, $136,819, were far less than the $242,000 spent in 2001 when electricity deregulation was a hot topic.

The list of lobbyists, from AOL Time Warner to the Acupuncture Society of Virginia, from Ford Motor Co. to Shenandoah Shakespeare Ltd., reflects the broad range of issues confronting the assembly.

The list also includes municipalities. Chesterfield County spent $75,855 on lobbying activities, while Richmond spent $29,955, and Henrico County spent $22,051.

Tyler Whitley is a staff writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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