Lobbyist spending hits record high

Spending by lobbyists hit a record high in 2010, cresting $65 million, even as spending nationwide fell.

The $65.5 million spending represents a 13.9 percent increase over 2009 levels and was the largest year to year jump since 2006, according to figures released yesterday by the Election Law Enforcement Commission, the state’s campaign finance watchdog.

The New Jersey Education Association, embroiled in a year-long battle with Gov. Chris Christie, shattered previous records, spending $6.8 million last year to lobby on behalf of the state’s teachers.

That number is more than seven times the spending level of the next closest lobbying group, Verizon, which spent $935,000 last year to lobby the state’s legislature.

Spending on salaries topped thelist of outlays at over $33 million last year followed by compensation to outside agents at $15.6 million. Spending on communications came in a distant third as lobbyists spent $10.3 million on television and radio spots and direct mail.  That number was up dramatically from 2009, when lobbyists spent just over $6 million to hit the airwaves.

The NJEA topped communications spending, shelling out a whopping $6.6 million in its air war with the governor over cuts in education spending and Christie’s attempts to rein in teacher salaries and benefits.

The NJEA’s spending total dwarfed that of the second highest group, Excellence in Education for Everyone, which laid out $458,000 in its attempts to push Trenton lawmakers toward school choice vouchers.

Benfits passing – gifts to lawmakers – continued to plummet in 2010, reaching just $7,715.  That number is off 20 percent from 2009 and is just a quarter of gifts given to lawmkers in 2006.  Benefits passing peaked in 1992 at $163,375 and has dropped steadily since.  In 2004, the Legislature passed more stringent disclosure laws.  Those new laws, coupled with greater transparency, has all but dried up the once prominent practice of showering lawmakers with gifts and junkets.

“Most public officials, to their credit, are hard working, honest individuals who want to avoid even the appearance of being influenced,” said Jeff Brindle, Executive Director of ELEC.

Perhaps owing to the partisan atmosphere in Trenton this year, the number of clients hiring a lobbyist grew nearly 10 percent to 1,998.  That number shrank in the two prior years. 

But while the number of clients grew, the number of lobbyists serving them continued to shrink.  Last year, the number dropped to 965, down from 1,001 in 2009 and 1,043 in 2008.

Lobbyist spending hits record high