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Lobbying among state government activities that contribute to local economy

Paid to push policy initiatives for their clients, lobbyists receive deserved scrutiny for their relationships with lawmakers.

While some lobbyists at the national and state levels push for policies that are benign or beneficial to Kentuckians, others advocate for and are successful in pushing ideas that do the opposite.

However, here in the state’s capital, lobbying is a part of the web of state government-related activities that contribute to Frankfort’s economy.

That web includes people such as Frankfort Mayor Bill May, who is a registered lobbyist. The executive director of the Kentucky County Clerks Association, May is listed as the organization’s lobbyist on the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission’s website.

In Monday’s State Journal, reporter Alfred Miller wrote that lobbying resulted in nearly $200,000 in meal receipts, close to $230,000 in advertising and roughly $690,000 on “expenses related to lobbying activities.” Through taxes, some of that money is passed on to local governments.

But that’s not all. If we’re truly trying to measure the effect of lobbying on our economy, we must consider total compensation, too. A Legislative Ethics Commission report shows private companies, nonprofits and other associations spent a combined $18.8 million on “legislative agent compensation” — in other words, paying lobbyists.

Compared to two decades ago, that’s a significant chunk of change. In 1998, for example, total “legislative agent compensation” paid to lobbyists was just $7 million, according to the Legislative Ethics Commission. By 2008, it had more than doubled to $14.7 million.

In cases where lobbyists list Frankfort as their primary place of business, local government benefits through payroll taxes. Local governments likely don’t see the full benefit of $18.8 million in payroll taxes, but the city and county government collect taxes on a portion of that pay. “Legislative agent compensation” is another way that lobbying affects our local economy.

The range of businesses paying lobbyists in Kentucky includes large banks such as J.P. Morgan Chase, large companies such as Duke Energy and Ford Motor Co., colleges, teachers’ organizations and trade groups such as the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

Lobbyists aren’t inherently bad. While Kentuckians and the general American public should be concerned about or at least aware of the degree to which money from corporations and their lobbyists influences politics, for Frankfort residents, it’s a double-edged sword. It poses the potential to result in laws that will hurt average Kentuckians but also results in important spending at local establishments.

The State Journal of Frankfort