FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Spending by lobbyists during the first three months of the 2018 General Assembly reached an all-time high.
According to the Legislative Ethics Commission, $8.4 million - a 17 percent increase over 2017 at the same time - was spent by lobbyists, led by tobacco tax, energy and health care issues.
The top spender during the first quarter of 2018 was Altria, one of the world's largest producers and marketers of tobacco products, which spent heavily on its lobbying effort in opposition to an increased tax on tobacco. The parent company of Philip Morris USA spent $332,000 through the first three months of the session. That’s over three times more than the $94,468 Altria spent in the same three months of 2016, the most recent 60-day session.
The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which supported a cigarette tax increase, was second on the lobbying list, spending $159,527. The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, another supporter of the tax hike, was the fourth-leading lobbying spender, at $110,766, while the Kentucky Hospital Association, which supported a health care reimbursement assessment on tobacco products and changes in the Medicaid program, spent $100,744 and was the fifth-leading spender.
Lawmakers ended up enacting a 50-cent per pack increase in the cigarette tax to help balance the budget.
LG&E and KU Energy was number three on the lobbying list, spending $116,858 in support of House Bill 227, which would cut payments to utility customers who generate excess electricity and sell it to utility companies, and a resolution urging Congress to establish a “moratorium on closing coal-fired electric plants and eliminating all subsidies for renewable energy sources.”
In addition to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, other top spenders who reported lobbying on HB 227 were: Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives ($71,018); Greater Louisville, Inc. ($53,750); Big Rivers Electric ($51,025); and Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation ($46,773).
While HB 227 passed the House 49-45 on March 14, but it never received a floor vote in the Senate.
1-800 Contacts, a company that conducts eye exams and sells contact lenses through its website, spent $70,906 in opposition to a bill was supported by optometrists but opposed by ophthalmologists and supporters of telemedicine.
It passed both the House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin.
Other top 10 spenders were Baxter Healthcare ($70,000); Sullivan University ($64,332); and Kentucky League of Cities ($61,729).
The rest of the top 20 lobbying spenders include: Kentucky Education Association ($59,156); Kentucky Justice Association ($59,024); Kentucky Medical Association ($53,919); Kentucky Retail Federation ($53,686); Anthem, Inc. ($53,064); Marsy’s Law for All ($47,480); and Kentucky Bankers Association ($45,546).
The KEA was strongly opposed to the pension reform bill that cleared the General Assembly as SB 151, a one-time wastewater bill, and signed by the governor. It is currently the subject of a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Andy Beshear and is pending in Franklin Circuit Court.
Marsy’s Law, intended to provide more rights to victims of crimes, was approved by the General Assembly as Senate Bill 3, a proposed constitutional amendment, and will appear on the November ballot.
Lobbying expenditures for the period April 1-15 will be announced at a later date.