Lobbyists, like journalists, are always having to defend their professions, and in the case of lobbyists, they assert their work on Beacon Hill or Capitol Hill involves educating legislators about complex issues and making sure that the legitimate needs of their clients are known. This is undoubtedly true much of the time, but what concerns voters and journalists when it comes to lobbying is the extraordinary amount of money spent on educating and informing lawmakers.
In 2012, according to an Associated Press study (Eagle, August 19), lobbyists donated $1.2 million to lawmakers through 8,500 individual donations, a lot of money that can buy a lot of influence. Salaries, benefits and expenses paid to lobbyists last year topped $118 million, roughly twice the operating budget for the Legislature. AP estimates that, thanks in part to a broader definition of lobbyists created in 2009, there are more than 1,600 lobbyists registered on Beacon Hill, roughly eight per legislator. Lawmakers must be inclined to hide under their desks.
Clearly, the lobbyists must be good at what they do or the corporations and other interest groups that pay their salaries wouldn't be sending armies of them to Boston. However, the Legislature doesn't pass that much legislation per session and most of it comes in the final scramble before summer recess. "The question that arises is what are these people doing?" asked Secretary of State William Galvin in an interview with AP. "Are they being paid to prevent bills from becoming law?"
The answer to that second question is most assuredly "yes," and a good example involves failed efforts to expand the 30-year-old bottle law to include water, sports drinks and non-carbonated beverages, thus increasing the total of recycled products and reducing waste. Voters consistently support this expansion in polls, lawmakers, when asked, say they support it, but the Massachusetts Food Association opposes it for reasons that collapse under modest scrutiny. MFA members don't want to be bothered with putting a good measure into practice. The MFA, like most corporate groups, has deep pockets, which not only buys action but inaction.