Grow, Gift, Repair

Cannabis lobbyists are doing well…

According to filings with the secretary of state’s office, Smith, Costello & Crawford reported $1.98 million in lobbying fees during the first six months of the year. It was the company’s best six-month period ever and the total was more than the lobbying firm earned in all of 2017.

ML Strategies, which has been the state’s leading lobbying firm for several years, came in second, reporting $1.91 million in fees for the six-month period. Some of ML Strategies’ major clients reduced their lobbying spending in the first half of the year. The New England Aquarium, for example, spent $60,000 in the first half of 2019, compared to $420,000 all of last year. Bill Weld, an ML Strategies lobbyist who announced a run for the Republican presidential nomination in April, reported $50,000 in lobbying fees during the first half of 2019.

Other lobbying firms in the top tier – all above $1 million in revenues – were O’Neill & Partners; Kearney, Donovan & McGee; Rasky Partners; BCB Government Relations; and Bay State Strategies Group.

Jim Smith, one of the partners at Smith, Costello & Crawford, said the emerging marijuana industry has helped fuel his company’s growth. He said the firm has a total of 30 marijuana clients, but only 16 required any lobbying activity at the state level during the first six months. The company listed 69 clients in its filing for the first half of 2019.

“That has been our biggest growth area,” Smith said of marijuana, adding that the firm’s other areas of expertise are energy and health care. The firm’s biggest client, however, is Mass Gaming and Entertainment, which is trying to win approval for a casino in southeastern Massachusetts and ponied up $216,000 in fees to Smith, Costello & Crawford.

Smith said most people think of lobbying as working the State House and lawmakers, but he said increasingly the business is focused on representing clients before state agencies. “There is so much administrative representation now,” he said. “The Cannabis Control Commission is the classic example of that.”

Among lobbying clients, the big players remained pretty much the same, but there were a few interesting developments.

The health care industry tends to dominate lobbying spending on Beacon Hill. Of the top 15 spenders on lobbying during the first half of 2019, eight operate in the health care arena. The Massachusetts Health and Hospitals Association led the way, spending $463,145 in the first six months. The association was followed by Partners HealthCare ($392,731), the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans ($382,340), and the Massachusetts Nurses Association ($283,743).

Trying to land a casino license, Mass Gaming and Entertainment spent a total of $326,000 over the first six months — $216,000 with Smith, Costello & Crawford, $60,000 with Rasky Partners, and $50,000 with Keswick Consulting.

Other big spenders were the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council ($268,163), which fought a pharmacy price control measure in the Legislature; the Massachusetts Teachers Association ($264,570), which lobbied on several education issues; Eversource ($250,076), the utility trying to break into the wind farm business; and Wynn Resorts ($200,000), which operates a casino in Everett.

One big surprise was the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which reported spending $233,430 during the first six months of 2019. The legal advocacy group has been very active on Beacon Hill on immigration and criminal justice issues. In all of 2018, the company spent $253,309 on lobbying.
Beth Israel Lahey Health, the newly formed hospital company formed to compete against Partners, so far isn’t trying to match the health care giant in lobbying spending. The newly formed company reported spending $74,487 on lobbying during the first half of 2019, while its two major hospital systems – Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Lahey Health Group – spent a combined $76,890 before the merger was fully consummated.