- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Businesses, trade associations and nonprofit groups spent $22 million on lobbying state officials and the public to attempt to sway policy decisions in 2007, according to a campaign finance reform group’s analysis released Monday.

The financial data examined by Democracy North Carolina represent information provided by lobbyists and their clients in the first year after the Legislature expanded disclosure requirements and prevented legislators from accepting most gifts.

Monday’s analysis provides a baseline to examine trends under the new rules, said Bob Hall, Democracy North Carolina’s executive director.

“Lobbyists provide policymakers with valuable information from an amazing array of often competing interests,” Hall said. “Lobbying is a public process, not a private transaction, so the public should know who’s spending what to promote an agenda.”

Most of the money _ $19.5 million _ paid for contract and salaried lobbyists, or $5 million more than compensation paid in 2005. Odd-numbered years are generally more active for lobbyists because the Legislature holds its longer budget-writing session in those years.

The 2007 compensation is likely higher because there were 887 principals _ or groups that had lobbyists _ registered with the Secretary of State’s Office, compared to 721 in 2005. The 2006 law also required groups and lobbyists attempting to sway executive branch agencies to register and makes clearer what is considered lobbying.

Other lobbying groups registered “out of an abundance of caution that there is more of a bright line now,” Hall said.

Former state Sen. Steve Metcalf reported the highest compensation with $485,362 from 14 clients for his firm, followed by Rufus Edmisten at $396,764 for 22 clients. Edmisten is a former state attorney general and secretary of state.

Hall said disclosure reports now require groups to list the compensation they pay to each lobbyist and not just their aggregate expense for lobbyists. The top 50 lobbyists received nearly half of the total compensation paid, or about $9.1 million. Nearly one in five registered lobbyists received no compensation.

The North Carolina Association of Realtors was the top spender on lobbying during 2007 at $972,384, or more than twice as much as any other group.

The association, which reported having six lobbyists, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a public campaign to build grass-roots opposition to a provision that allowed county governments to raise the tax on property sales if local voters approved it. The local-option tax was approved anyway.

Land for Tomorrow, a coalition of local governments and historic and ecological groups formed to push for conservation spending, ranked second with $403,092. The group supported efforts such as raising the property sales tax. The North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association, which successfully blocked an increase in the tax on car sales, was third with $287,959.

Hall’s lobbying analysis said about $455,000 went for meals, events, gifts and entertainment.

The 2006 law prevents individual legislators from accepting dinners and tickets to sporting events, although elected officials can receive food and drinks at public events in which a large number of legislators are invited or attend. The N.C. Association of Electric Cooperatives spent nearly $30,000 on a reception for legislators, the analysis found.

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