Wind, weed lobbyists top annual ELEC report

Want a good barometer of which issues are hot? Look to the state Election Law Enforcement Commissions’ annual report of where lobbyists spent their money. This year it’s Wind and Weed. Senior Correspondent David Cruz is following the money.

Lobbyists spent just over $89 million to try to convince lawmakers to support or not support issues that were important to them in 2018. It sounds like a lot, but that’s down from 2017, which was a record year, and the first time it’s been under $90 million since 2014.

Jeff Brindle is the executive director of ELEC, which issues the report every year.

“You know, that’s kind of what happens in lobbying. It ebbs and flows depending on what the issues are, depending on the administration and their priorities,” Brindle said.

The money follows the issues, generally, and 2018 is no exception. Just as the governor introduced a plan to pump up the state’s goals on renewable energy — especially wind — lobbying efforts there increased. Spending by lobbyists on promoting wind energy was up 234 percent

On legalizing marijuana it was up 313 percent. Wind initiatives have been started but legal weed is still far off, so you can expect that lobbying in that area is going to ramp up in the year ahead.

“Those numbers are going to increase, and I’ve noticed that there was a bill put in to have the public possibly vote on this. If that were to happen then you’re going to see a significant increase in spending on the marijuana issue,” Brindle said.

So who’s spending all this money? Public Service Enterprise Group, the parent of PSE&G, spent $1,475,770 lobbying for their nuclear energy subsidy. The Engineers Labor Employer Cooperative spent $970,528 in 2018 lobbying for infrastructure and building projects. They were heavy lobbyists on the Transportation Trust Fund deal. And Hackensack Meridian Health spent $845,527 on lobbying for hospital and health issues.

As for lobbying firms, or those that lobby for a living for multiple clients, Princeton Public Affairs topped the list at $9,144,770. NJTV is a client of PPA. Public Strategies Impact is at number two with $7,181,927 spent. And Cammarano, Layton and Bombardieri round out the top three at $3,164,924.

There was also a new player in the lobbying game this year: New Direction New Jersey.

That group that has been the source of some controversy. They lobby on behalf of Gov. Murphy’s agenda. They’re a 501(c)4 entity, which means they don’t have to disclose their donors, but Brindle says he hopes that that changes in the year ahead.

“You know, one of the thing that we certainly hope will happen is this bill – S1500 – which has passed the Senate and would get electioneering advertising as well as advocacy advertising captured under that bill and have that disclosed,” Brindle said.

That would also apply to similar groups associated with Senate President Steve Sweeney and others. Rest assured the bill that would impact lobbyists and lobbying firms will be the focus of attention from lobbyists and lobbying firms. It’s the circle of life in Trenton.