At least $6.5 million was spent on lobbying efforts during Montana’s 2019 legislative session.
That’s more than two and a half times as much as legislative candidates have raised on their election campaigns annually in recent years.
Denise Roth Barber, the managing director at the Helena-based National Institute on Money in Politics, which tracks campaign donations and spending, and lobbyist spending, says their data show that between 2010 and 2016, spending in Montana state legislative campaigns has stayed relatively flat, but, “the money spent lobbying dwarfs the money spent given to elections.”
Montana Public Radio reviewed hundreds of individual spending disclosure forms filed by companies, trade groups and local governments from January through April of 2019. It added up to around $6.5 million. If you add reported spending from the months leading up to the 2019 session, that number exceeds $8 million.
The spending during the three-and-a-half month session covers lobbyist pay, their travel to and from the state capital, and costs of entertaining lawmakers, such as a steak dinner or a gift from a Helena liquor store.
Roth Barber says information on lobbyist spending in state legislatures is sporadic and inconsistent across the country. She says Montana, in comparison, has a pretty good lobbying disclosure law.
“The level of detail required is pretty impressive actually, on paper," she says. "I’m not sure how that’s translating in the data itself.”
Lobbyists in Montana don’t all report their spending activity uniformly or to the same level of detail. So it’s hard to make precise comparisons.
However, it is possible to tell that most of the dollars spent went to lobbyist pay, and roughly $200,000 was spent on entertainment for lawmakers.
The biggest reported spender the 2019 legislative cycle was PPL Services Corporation. That’s the Pennsylvania-based utilities company that spun off some of its holdings into Talen Energy, which is a major owner and operator at the Colstrip coal-fired power plant.