LINCOLN, Neb. — Lobbyists seeking to influence Nebraska state lawmakers are pulling in more money than ever before, according to a new analysis of public records by Common Cause Nebraska.
Last year, 573 groups or entities called “principals” paid 391 lobbyists $17.8 million, up $400,000 over the previous year — an increase that stayed well ahead of inflation and left government salaries in the dust, the report states.
“With the Unicameral dealing with as many as 1,000 bills in a two-year session, corporations, special interest groups and others pay lobbyists to gain an advantage in advancing their agendas,” said Jack Gould, issues chair of the Common Cause Nebraska board and author of the annual lobbyist report. “That advantage takes money, and those who spend the most money expect to have better access, influence and outcomes than the rest of us — and there’s ‘the rub.’”
The report identified the top 10 spenders on lobbyists. At the top of the 2018 list is Altria Services, the parent company for Philip Morris and other tobacco companies, which spend $181,818 to influence lawmakers. Some of those dollars went straight to political campaigns, including $16,000 to the Nebraska Republican Party and $10,000 to the Committee to Elect Pete Ricketts for Governor.
The report also identified the top 10 compensated lobbyist firms in the state. At the top for the fifth consecutive year was Mueller Robak, which reported $1.45 million in earnings in 2018 and $7.3 million over five years, the report states. Its clients include AT&T and Uber, according to its website.
“Over the years, Nebraskans have become accepting of lobbyists wining, dining and entertaining their way to access,” the report states. “It has even become an accepted practice for lobbyists to become key players in campaign fundraising. All of this creates an insider game that puts the average citizen at a disadvantage. The importance of a small donor giving $20 donation has given way to those able to make a $5,000 contribution.”
Tickets to University of Nebraska football games continue to be popular gifts to senators. A total of 18 senators received free tickets to either season games and spring games, skybox tickets or parking passes valued at more than $14,000, while one senator reported buying tickets with campaign dollars.
While 29 states prohibit lobbyists-sponsored campaign fundraisers during session, Nebraska isn’t one of them, the report states. At least 16 are on the calendar for January to May 2019 already.
“Lobbyist-sponsored fundraisers take place throughout the year, but money changing hands during the session, often hours before a vote, lends itself to corruption or the perception of corruption,” the report states.
For eight years, Common Cause Nebraska has compiled lobbyists’ expenses to document the growing wealth of the lobby and advance reforms to curb the influence of special interest money in politics. The nonpartisan, nonprofit organization continues to advocate for a two-year break before legislators can become lobbyists, an end to the practice of in-session fundraisers and greater transparency from both lobbyists and principals on how lobbyists influence policymakers.
Read the report online.