Lobbyists spent $15.9 million in Virginia from May 2012 to April to make friends and influence people in Virginia politics.
Spending was for items ranging from steak dinners and hunting trips to airfare and tickets for rock concerts and high-profile sporting events, according to filings analyzed by the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in politics.
Dominion spent more than $22,000 for five lawmakers and two state officials to attend this year’s Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga.
MeadWestvaco paid $1,675 to take four members of the governor’s staff and a lawmaker to a Dave Matthews concert in December 2012.
The Virginia Public Safety Alliance paid $23,787 to send Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, and three others on a hunting trip to Canada.
Total lobbyist spending has remained largely unchanged over the past five years, ranging from the $14.9 million in 2008-09 to this year’s $15.9 million.
Less than a quarter of the filings from lobbying clients mention the legislation for which they were lobbying, and the overwhelming majority cited dealt with budget appropriations.
While entertainment disclosures can shed light on where time and money is being spent, they can be difficult to decipher. There are discrepancies in how various firms file their disclosures and gaps in the rules that make it difficult to determine every instance in which an official is being lobbied and how much is being spent on them.
Lobbyists do not need to disclose the names of the lawmakers they entertained if the cost is valued at less than $50.
For instance, the Virginia Auto Dealers Association spent nearly $18,000 on a reception for 380 people in January, but it does not list the officials who attended.
It’s hard to align the information from lobbyists and the disclosures that elected officials make in part because they are on different filing cycles and are submitted to different offices.
State officials file statements of economic interest, and lobbyists file disclosures, to the secretary of the commonwealth. Members of the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate file with the clerks of each chamber.
Changes could be coming to the disclosure laws. The General Assembly is expected to wrestle with ethics and disclosure reform during its 2014 session in the wake of the gifts scandal surrounding Gov. Bob McDonnell and the first family.
Republican leaders in the House of Delegates have said they plan to seek “strong reforms including new and rigorous reporting requirements on gifts to immediate family members, synchronizing and simplifying reporting periods, and instituting disclosure compliance training for elected officials.”
The state does not audit the lobbyist reports but does dole out penalties for reports not filed by July 1. If a lobbyist does not meet the deadline, it triggers a $50 civil penalty for the lobbyist and the client. After July 11, the lobbyist and the client face additional penalties of $50 per day.
VPAP said there are 41 clients for which it has not received any reports and 11 clients for which it has received some but not all reports.
VPAP said it is unclear whether this means a client has not filed a report or that the secretary of the commonwealth has not provided VPAP with a copy.