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Another Year, Another Kentucky Lobbying Record In The Making

Josh James

The grand totals aren't in the books just yet, but 2019 appears on track to set a new bar for lobbying in Frankfort.

In the first two months of 2019's 30-day legislative session — one of which boasted only four official working days — businesses, organizations, and other groups forked over more than $5 million to target lawmakers. 

"We expect when the final reports come in that it'll break the previous records for the short session of the General Assembly," says John Schaaf, the man who tallies up the data for the state's Legislative Ethics Commission. 

The legislature meets for 30 days in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years. In 2018, lobbying groups also outspent themselves, pouring $23.1 million into influence efforts in Frankfort. Schaaf says the long-running upward trend mirrors lobbying numbers seen across the country.

Kentucky's top two spenders this session were the usual suspects: the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and Altria, which is owned by tobacco giant Phillip Morris.

"They actually boosted their spending by about 18 percent over the prior year, and that was probably primarily spent lobbying against any other tobacco tax increases," the commission spokesman reports. 

Last session, lawmakers okayed a 50-cent cigarette tax hike as part of a broader tax overhaul. This year, the General Assembly approved a smoking and vaping ban on public school campuses across the state.

Although the number of employers lobbying in Frankfort shot up to record levels in 2018, the number of lobbyists actually declined slightly. That suggests the lobbying business in Kentucky is growing more consolidated, Schaaf says, with roughly a dozen lobbying firms handling more than half of the spending.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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