Way more than $115,000
Tuesday, a number of media outlets reported that the Vikings spent $115,000 this session on lobbying expenses. While that’s an accurate figure derived from lobbyist reporting forms, it substantially understates the real cost of the Vikings lobbying effort. When final reports are in at the end of 2012, I bet it misses the actual cost of the Vikings lobbying effort by a factor of ten or more.
Every year, lobbyist principals (the companies, organizations or associations that lobby) are required to file a report listing their overall lobbying expenses. The form asks for a single, unitemized dollar amount that includes:
1) all expenditures for advertising, mailing, research, analysis, compilation and dissemination of information, and public relations campaigns;
2) all salaries and administrative expenses for paid lobbyists and support staff;
and 3) all direct payments to lobbyists under contract.
The figure that was reported earlier this week on the lobbyist disclosure forms is mostly from the midyear disclosure form of lobbyist Lester Bagley. There were four other registered lobbyists that reported work on the Vikings behalf in the first half of 2012 (Judy Cook, David Johnson, Lawrence Redmond, and Margaret Vesel) but they reported a total of less than $10,000 in expenses.
One key difference between the expense reporting forms (which yield the $115,000 figure) and the principal reporting forms is the expense reporting forms don’t include the salary of the lobbyists. Additionally, none of the expense reporting forms for Vikings lobbyists included a single cent for “public relations campaigns” and only $100.00 for “media advertising.” Think on that for a moment. Supposedly, Vikings lobbyists spent $100 on public relations and advertising in pursuit of their stadium during the 2012 session.
In 2011, the Vikings reported spending $840,000 in lobbying expenses on the principal reporting form. In 2006, they spent $1,160,000. What will be the total in 2012? My guess is that it will be north of that figure. At least, any honest accounting of the expenses would be.
We have a real problem with our lobbyist disclosure rules when a five month blitz of advertising, PR, and lobbying can generate disclosure of such a small amount. Additionally, the disconnect between the principal reporting requirements (which are literally a dollar amount, with no itemization) and the lobbyist reporting forms needs to be addressed. Minnesota’s weak lobbyist disclosure laws conceal the amount of money spent to influence the legislative process.
But even if the real figure for lobbying ends up in seven figures, this is still an enormous bargain for the Vikings and a bad deal for the taxpayers. No other “investment” yields a greater return than a successful lobbying effort for a stadium.
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