RI Groups Have Spent Over $2.2 million on Washington Lobbyists in 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Rhode Island corporations, cities and towns, colleges and universities and non-profit organizations have spent more than $2.2 million this year on lobbyists in the nation’s capital, a GoLocalProv review of lobbyist reports shows.

Paid lobbyists and firms are required to file quarterly reports identifying their clients and the amount of money they were paid. Reports this year show that dozens of groups in the Ocean State have been attempting to influence Washington lawmakers in a year where cutting federal spending has been a top priority for Congress.

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Leading the way in 2011 is GTECH and Hasbro, which have combined to spend more than $500,000 on lobbyists this year. Rounding out the top five are Citizens Bank, Brown University and East Greenwich-based Picerne Military Housing.

GoLocalProv combed through a lobbyist disclosure database on the U.S. Senate’s website, identifying only the companies that list Rhode Island as their “client state.” For that reason, CVS Caremark, which spends millions on lobbying (over $28 million in the last decade), was not included for this story.

Gaming Company Leads Way

GTECH, the gaming technology and services company with headquarters in downtown Providence, has spent $310,000 in 2011 on lobbyists. The international company, which runs several state lotteries, is part of a larger movement by the gaming industry to influence both state and national politics.

According to opensecrets.org, the industry has spent over $80 million contributing to candidates and elected officials around the country since 2000. During the 2012 election cycle alone, the industry has spent over $4.2 million on individuals and Political Action Committees (PACs).

That doesn’t include lobbyist money, which according to a Washington Post story from May, the industry spent nearly $30 million on in 2010.

Colleges Want a Piece of the Action

But it’s not just for-profit institutions attempting to buy support in Washington. Brown University has spent just over $194,000 this year on lobbyists while Salve Regina University reports spending $30,000 so far. The University of Rhode Island Research Foundation also reports spending about $90,000.

The reason is simple: Universities depend on research money and financial aid that in most cases comes directly from the federal government. With issues like Pell Grants and discretionary spending as a whole a controversial topic in Washington this year, higher education institutions want to make sure their voices are heard.

In September, former lobbyist Julie Cassidy told GoLocalProv that universities are almost forced to send representatives to Washington each year.

“The reason they hire lobbyists is because there’s literally hundreds of billions of dollars at stake for universities,” Cassidy said. “They almost always have to hire lobbyists.”

Cities and Towns Spend Too

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A handful of cities and towns in the Ocean State are also spending money on lobbyists in Washington. The town of North Providence leads the way, spending $80,000 in 2011. Providence and Middletown have also combined to spend $60,000 in Washington this year.

Similar to the colleges and universities, the reason cities and towns send lobbyists to Washington is make sure they continue to receive the federal funding they often desperately depend on. Providence, for example, relies on millions in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) cash from the Department of Housing and Urban Development each year.

City spokesman David Ortiz told GoLocalProv earlier this year that Providence just wants to make sure it has a voice in Washington.

"The city of Providence competes for tens of millions in federal funding annually, and having a voice for Providence in Washington, DC is crucial to that effort,” Ortiz said.

Promoting Public Financing of Campaigns

Of course, Rhode Island groups also spend millions each year lobbying politicians on Smith as well. As GoLocalProv reported last week, companies spent more than $300,000 on lobbyists in the month of October.

But former State Representative and Congressional candidate David Segal said lobbyists play a larger role at the federal level. He noted that because candidates tend to be more connected with their constituents in state as small as Rhode Island, they often do not have to spend as much on elections.

“I think special interest money plays a significant role in Rhode Island, but an even more outsized role in federal politics,” Segal said. “There's just so much more money in play at the federal level. Money is still a major factor here, but having small, walkable districts in Rhode Island makes it easier for candidates to connect with voters without spending ungodly sums. The answer of course -- at the federal level and at the state level -- is to put public financing systems in place. That way we return power to the voters and strip it from money and the special interests that provide so much of it.”

A Toxic Mix

But Common Cause Executive Director John Marion pointed out that while everyone should be allowed to lobby the government, there is a fine line that lobbyists too often cross.

Like Segal, Marion also supports publicly financed elections in order to limit the role of special interests in politics.

“People and organizations have every right to lobby their government,” Marion said. “However, when it's combined with a system whereby they also finance the campaigns of those officials they are lobbying, there is a toxic mix of influence and money.”

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