2008 General Assembly Prompts Millions In Lobbying Money

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- After a bill was filed in this year's General Assembly to improve amusement-ride safety, Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom did something it had never done before. It hired a team of lobbyists, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal in its Sunday edition.

For $25,000, Kentucky Kingdom retained the services of the lobbying firm headed by former state Republican Party Chairman John McCarthy.

The bill -- a response to the accident at the Louisville amusement park last summer in which a girl's feet were severed -- passed and was signed into law, rep;orts veteran C-J reporter Tom Loftus.

Sen. Tom Jensen, its sponsor, said Kentucky Kingdom had some of its concerns addressed but failed in trying to delete a provision to raise the minimum age of ride operators to 18 from 16.

"I think they made our bill better," said Jensen, R-London.

Kentucky Kingdom officials declined to comment. But they had plenty of company in trying to make sure lawmakers heard concerns about legislation, reports the C-J.

With the national economy teetering on recession, and revenue shortages forcing cuts in state spending, the market for established lobbyists was stronger than ever during this year's regular session.

For the first four months of this year, 670 corporations, associations and other groups spent about $7.4 million for the services of lobbyists. That compares to about $4.5 million spent on lobbyists by 459 groups for all of 1994, the first year such records were kept.

Big spenders on lobbying this year included horse tracks, casinos and related interests, which supported the failed attempt to legalize casinos. Tobacco interests successfully fought a push to raise the state's cigarette tax to shore up the beleaguered state budget, the newspaper reports.

But most of the big spending on lobbyists came from associations representing business, teachers, doctors, bankers, hospitals and insurance interests, which work every session to protect their members.

Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, is among those who find the amount spent on lobbying troubling, reports the newspaper. "It's part of the free-market system to pay big money to people to go in and try to sway the legislative process, and that's what is happening," he said. "The problem is that, oftentimes, the ordinary citizen's voice is drowned out, if it's heard at all."

This year, Bob Babbage, former state auditor and secretary of state was the highest-paid lobbyist during the session, receiving $278,150 from 29 clients ranging from the slot-machine maker International Game Technology to the American Diabetes Association, reports the C-J.

By contrast, Steve Beshear earned $39,835 as governor from Jan. 1 through April 30, roughly the period of the session. Senate President David Williams and House Speaker Jody Richards each made $34,777 in salary and expense allowances. Babbage said he's fortunate to be able to lobby.

"I love the work," he said. "… Advocacy for things you care about is, to me, the best work of life."

The second-highest-paid lobbyist was Gene McLean, former executive vice president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, who made $253,400 representing 20 clients, including race tracks and beer wholesalers.

Ronny Pryor, a former full-time lobbyist for the Kentucky Farm Bureau, was next, making $205,922 in representing 21 clients, including health care, agriculture and other interests, the newspaper reports.

Lobbyist compensation has grown steadily since 1994, when the General Assembly first required detailed reporting of such costs to a newly established ethics commission.

For the budget-writing, 60-day sessions in even-numbered years, lobbyists' pay grew from $4,557,014 in 1994 to $13,362,476 in 2006, commission records show.

Through the first four months of 2008, lobbyist compensation in Kentucky totaled $7,421,291, reports The Louisville Courier-Journal.

Copyright - The Louisville Courier-Journal

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