AUGUSTA — The $56,876 that interest groups spent on events for state lawmakers during the last legislative session may not seem like much relative to the $7.5 million that organizations paid lobbyists to influence policymaking.

Nonetheless, a review of event spending from January 2011 to May 2012 shows that 28 organizations entertained, fed or rented hotel rooms for legislators and state officials to create favorable impressions and advance lawmaking.

Some of the events were big-tent affairs, such as a $5,000 bus tour for legislators put together by the Maine Credit Union League. Others, such as the National Rifle Association’s trap shoot with House Majority Whip Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, on Aug. 6, 2011, targeted individual lawmakers.

The totals for event spending are significantly less than those presented with one of MaineToday Media’s stories last Sunday about lobbying at the State House. Incorrect figures were provided by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, which in some instances multiplied the cost of an event by the number of lawmakers who attended.

The Maine Credit Union League spent $8,128 on three events, the most of any organization. Two “Credit Union Day” events were held in the State House Hall of Flags, as the organization paid for food and beverages while its representatives discussed legislation with lawmakers.

The group’s biggest expense was this year’s bus tour of businesses such as Fairchild Semiconductor, Brunswick Landing and the Sanford wastewater treatment plant. Thirty-nine lawmakers, from both parties, participated.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce, which lobbies dozens of bills each session, spent $7,579, ranking second in spending. Thirty-four lawmakers, most of them members of legislative leadership or committee chairs, attended two leadership summits and the chamber’s 2011 annual dinner. Gov. Paul LePage’s legislative liaison also attended the dinner.

Northeast Delta Dental was third on the list, spending $6,614 on one event held this year. Thirty-eight lawmakers attended.

The American Heart Association spent $3,320 and was fourth in spending. The group held five events, including one at the State House to raise stroke awareness.

New England Cable and Telecom Associates spent $2,835, most of which paid for hotel rooms and meals for lawmakers who attended the organization’s July 2011 membership convention.

Two of the lawmakers, Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, and Sen. Chris Rector, R-Thomaston, were members of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. New England Cable and Telecom Associates paid over $420 and $450, respectively, for the lawmakers’ hotel and meals.

The group also paid for rooms and meals for Sen. Richard Rosen, R-Bucksport, co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee.

The group lobbied several bills during the session, including one to create a new regulatory structure for the telephone industry and another that would have temporarily increased the monthly surcharge for E-911 services.

Both bills went through the energy committee, while a bill to exempt the rental of cable or satellite television equipment from the state’s retail tax went through the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative advocacy group, was sixth in spending for events. The money was directed to two events in 2011.

About 20 lawmakers attended a dinner in February 2011 that focused on public pension reforms, several of which were passed by the Legislature.

A dinner in March 2011 was a discussion among the group’s officials about welfare policy changes. Many of those changes were enacted this year through budget reductions to the state’s Medicaid program.

The Maine Bankers Association, which lobbied against a failed bill to force banks that foreclose on homes to produce original mortgage notes in court, spent $2,543 on two reception dinners for legislators.

The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors ($2,329) entertained lawmakers with several dinners. FairPoint Communications ($2,164) and the Maine Medical Association ($2,020) hosted similar events.

The National Rifle Association ($2,329) also hosted dinners, but sometimes drew a smaller audience while entertaining lawmakers.

On March 12, the organization’s lobbyist paid $60.01 each for the meals of Sens. John Patrick, D-Rumford, and Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake. The NRA also paid $75.82 for Martin’s meal on March 11.

The NRA hosted meals for small gatherings of lawmakers in both parties in May 2011. Cushing, the assistant House majority leader, received two meals and attended a trap shoot that cost $151.64.

Other event expenditures were notable, if not for the amount spent.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States spent $1,142 on a “reception and spirits tasting event” in March. Nineteen lawmakers attended.

Black Bear Entertainment, the group that operates Oxford Casino, spent $571 in 2011 entertaining Oxford County’s legislative delegation. Black Bear lobbied several gaming bills last session and actively opposed the legislative authorization of a proposed racino in Biddeford.

The delegation voted against the measure.

State House Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

[email protected]

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