In my Civil Beat column last week, I tried to do an overview of lobbying expenditures reported to the State Ethics Commission during 2016 (“Ian Lind: Tightening The Rules For Lobbyists/Lobbyists spent millions trying to influence lawmakers last year“).
I reported more than $5.3 million had been spent on legislative lobbying during the year, which seems like a substantial number. In the end, though, that total dropped to a bit under $5.3 million as a result of errors in the reports that were filed.
The column also reviews proposals from the ethics commission for clarifying reporting requirements in an attempt to close several loopholes that have been exploited by some to sidestep the disclosure requirements.
I would suggest that you at least skim the column, then return here for an explanation of what went into writing it and the problems I ran into.
First, I downloaded the latest version of the database of reported expenditures by organizations that retain lobbyists or are otherwise required to disclose their costs for influencing legislation, and then selected a subset containing all the reports for each of three reporting periods during 2016. These reports cover the periods January 1-February 28, March 1-April 30, and May 1-December 31. The legislature is in session during most of the first two periods.
When these are put online, the commission includes the amount reported for fees paid to lobbyists, and for the total of all categories of spending, in addition to the organization name, date filed, and other details. Also included is a link to the available pdf of the form.
During an initial pass examining the data, I noticed that several organizations submitted amended reports during the year. I went through each of those, and tried to make sense of the “amendments.” In some cases, the amendments appeared to simply be duplicates of the originals. In a few other cases, they reported new and presumably updated figures.
In one case–Outrigger Hotels–there were several amended disclosure forms filed, each containing the same numbers. On its face, it appeared Outrigger ranked #2 of all the organizations in spending, but several things stood out as warning flags that this might have been the result of errors. While I was working on my column, I tried reaching Max Sword, Outrigger’s in-house lobbyist. But Sword is also the current chair of the Honolulu Police Commission, which was meeting that same day, and I wasn’t able to reach him until the following day.
It turned out, according to Sword, that errors were made in the online process of filing these reports, resulting in errors. But although I suspected there were errors, at least in the case of Outrigger, I wasn’t able to confirm them prior to publication.
In any case, my next step was to add up the amounts reported in each of the three periods for each organization, and produced a list of the total amount spent by each group during 2016. Then I sorted these in descending order to give a quick list of the top spending lobbying groups.
I’m pretty sure that this is still a relatively good assessment of the overall situation. However, my “final” numbers changed when I made the correction for Outrigger, dropping it from #2 to #8 in the ranking.
Here’s a link to the full list of organizations and what they reported spending on lobbying at the legislature last year.
If you spot instances that deserve more attention, please leave a comment below. Thanks.