AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine lobbyists have been paid $4.8 million so far this year, including familiar political faces involved in fights over solar power, voter-approved laws and the two-year, $7.1 billion budget.
The Associated Press reviewed lobbying reports through July and found big spenders include the pharmaceutical industry, Maine’s largest electrical utility, a nonprofit energy group, and organizations hoping to shape the state’s recreational marijuana industry.
The spending follows renewed concern from political and advocacy groups over the influence of former lawmakers and administration officials. Maine bars lawmakers from registering as lobbyists in their first year after holding office, while certain former executive branch officials — like the governor’s policy advisers — don’t face such a prohibition.
But the state must better enforce a loophole that allows former lawmakers to lobby in that first year if they report lobbying fewer than 8 hours a month, Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage said.
“Lobbyists play a huge role in how our statehouse functions,” he said, and noted all individuals — including those who lobby — have a right to petition their government. “I think it’s perfectly acceptable that we hold them accountable.”
Four lobbyists for the Augusta-based Mitchell Tardy Jackson Government Affairs reported about $934,000 in pay since January. Its lobbyists include former Republican House leader Josh Tardy, and clients include Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Central Maine Power Co., and pipeline companies pushing for more natural gas infrastructure throughout the Northeast.
Other lawmakers-turned-lobbyists include former Democratic House Speaker Michael Saxl, former Democratic Rep. Edward Dugay, former Democratic Rep. Robert Howe and former seven-term Republican lawmaker Pamela Cahill.
Former GOP Gov. Paul LePage adviser Holly Lusk and former Democratic Rep. Adam Goode lobbied this year after more recent departures. Lusk left the governor’s office in December 2015 and rejoined firm Preti Flaherty to lobby for clients including private health provider Correct Care Solutions this year, while Goode — term-limited out of office in December — lobbied lawmakers for the Maine AFL-CIO.
This spring, Maine’s ethics commission voted against investigating Republican Rep. Sheldon Hanington’s complaint that Goode didn’t stay below the eight-hour lobbying threshold. Commissioners unanimously supported stalled legislation prohibiting any paid lobbying for lawmakers in the year after their service ends. A similar bill to extend such a ban to former executive branch officials died.
‘NO POWER IN THE LOBBY’
Maine is one of at least 34 states the National Conference of State Legislatures found has a “cooling off period” before formers lawmakers can lobby.
Tardy said effective lobbyists need a “comprehensive understanding of the legislative process and the executive branch” but takes exception to the commonly held belief that lobbyists carry outsized power to shape legislation.
“There’s no power in the lobby,” Tardy said. “The power is in the people who have a vote. Lobbyists don’t have a vote.”
Mary Orear, a Rockport resident and Democrat, wants a four-year lobbying ban and hopes to train Maine citizens to lobby. “It gives them incredible power and an unfair advantage, and it opens the door for financial wheedling and abuse,” she said.
Ann Luther, advocacy chair of the League of Women Voters of Maine, said that it’s hard for the public to tell why former lawmakers may lobby, and that eliminating term limits could lead to more empowered lawmakers. “When the Legislature gets weaker, the lobby gets stronger,” she said.
Former Democratic Rep. John Brautigam, interim head of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, said that in his view, “legislators need more resources and they need more time to master the legislative process” than current law allows.
Some companies fared better than others in lobbying efforts.
Nonprofit Industrial Energy Consumer Group and Central Maine Power Co. reported spending over $200,000 on lobbyists, including Tardy. They helped quash a solar energy bill strongly supported by solar installation companies and environmental groups.
Lobbyists representing McDonald’s, Walmart and Maine business groups took on the labor and education lobby to remove a voter-approved tax on high earners to fund schools and roll back a voter-approved minimum wage law impacting tipped workers. Droves of Maine residents testified on both sides.
Several leading tobacco producers lost their fight against a law barring tobacco sales to those under 21. A bill to prevent sale of furniture made with flame retardants became law over the objections of the American Chemistry Council and chemical manufacturer Albemarle Corporation.
Groups such as Maine Professionals for Regulating Marijuana hoping to shape the state’s recreational marijuana industry have reported spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists.