- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A public smoking ban that failed to pass was among the top priorities of Kentucky’s highest paid lobbyists this year.

Overall, lobbyist spending declined slightly to $8.7 million - down from the record $8.8 million in 2012. Most of that money was for lobbyist salaries.

“It’s close to 90 percent of the expenditures or better is for salaries rather than for lavish parties or something like that,” Tony Wilhoit, executive director of the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission, said Tuesday.

The smoking ban that would have prohibited lighting up in businesses, places of employment and some other public places never made it to a vote on the House floor and a similar bill failed in the Senate. No breakdown was available for how much of the total spending was on lobbying for and against the smoking ban. Lobbyists are required to report only on total spending.

Wilhoit said he expects lobbyist spending to increase in 2015 because of a new law that requires employers to report any money spent on advertising regarding legislation.

Kentucky’s top five lobbyists of the 2014 legislative session were:

ALTRIA

The Richmond, Virginia-based company owns three tobacco companies with brands including Marlboro, Skoal and Black & Mild. They spent $156,200 during the 2014 budget session, a 33 percent increase from the 2012 budget session. An anti-smoking group blamed Altria for blocking the ban. A spokesman for Altria said the company did not lobby against it, focusing instead on defeating a series of cigarette excise taxes proposed in Gov. Steve Beshear’s budget.

KENTUCKY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

Representing Kentucky’s business community, whose members make up about 40 percent of the state’s tax revenue, the chamber spent $128,434 lobbying the General Assembly in 2014. They lobbied in favor of the smoking ban, including testifying in public hearings. But the chamber’s top priority was a bill that would have made it easier for local governments to pay for expensive construction projects by partnering with private entities. The bill passed the legislature, but was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear because it specifically exempted the Brent Spence Bridge in Northern Kentucky.

KENTUCKY HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION AND THE KENTUCKY MEDICAL ASSOCIATION

These two groups - representing hospitals and doctors - spent a combined $181,349 to finish third and fourth on the list of top lobbyists. Attempts to reach a Medical Association spokesman were unsuccessful. Of the 11 bills the Hospital Association supported, two became law - including one allowing school employees to administer emergency medication to students with diabetes.

AT&T;

The telephone giant spent $75,075 lobbying the General Assembly in 2014, and nearly all of it was for one bill: Senate bill 99. Dubbed the “AT&T; bill” by friends and foes alike, the bill would have allowed AT&T; to not provide landlines in urban areas with at least 15,000 households. Consumer groups opposed the bill because wireless plans cost more than landlines. The bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate but did not get a vote in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.