Lobbyists in the State House

It’s still a little early, but the paid advocates whose clients could be affected by Gov. Paul LePage’s budget are already lining up to influence the state lawmakers charged with approving the spending plan.

The names of the lobbyists will be familiar to those who regularly comb through the disclosure lists posted by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices. So will some of the clients. Groups representing trial lawyers, insurance companies and other business groups that routinely deploy lobbyists on budgetary matters. However, there are some newcomers on the list and many of them filed their first registrations within days of the governor’s Jan. 9 budget presentation. While some of the registration documents are vague when describing their legislative interests (My favorite: “public interest”), it’s not a stretch to assume that some groups are paying lobbyists to oppose the governor’s tax plan.

Many of these groups could see the sales tax exemption disappear if the governor’s proposal is approved by the Legislature. Below is a list of a few newcomers:

* Business Tax Incentive Group: An organization representing major employers in the state, including Texas Instruments, Idexx, Aetna and Verso Paper. The governor has proposed phasing out a program that provides big tax breaks on business equipment purchases.

* Maine Association of Professional Accountants: The governor’s budget would apply sales taxes to accounting services.

* Maine Independent Colleges Association: LePage has proposed removing the property tax exemption for nonprofits, including private colleges.

* Motion Picture Association: The budget would apply sales tax to an array of amusement items, including movie tickets.

* Ski Maine: Represents the skiing industry. LePage’s sales tax expansion would apply to lift tickets.

Expect more registrations as the Legislature’s budget writing committee begins public hearings and work sessions on the budget.

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A few more odds and ends from the lobbying registrations that may not be budget related:

* National Shooting Sports Association: The registration says the group is interested in “improving criminal background checks for the purchase of firearms.” The group is also from Newton, Connecticut, the site of the Sandy Hook school shootings. However, if you think NSSA is interested in beefing up background checks for the purchase of firearms, think again. The NSSA is the trade association for firearms dealers and has vigorously opposed such legislation in other states. That includes the “gun show loophole,” which the NSSA has described in blog posts as “a myth.”

* The Humane Society of the United States: This is the same group that brought you the 2014 bear baiting referendum, spending $2.9 million in losing effort. They’ve vowed to try again in 2016. As noted here on Friday, Rep. Stanley Short, D-Pittsfield, has submitted a bill that would make it harder for groups like the Humane Society to initiate ballot measures in the future.

* Maine Citizens Coalition: The registration says the group advocates for free market solutions, welfare reform, right to work and other assorted conservative causes. What’s not clear is who is paying Lewiston’s Stavros Mendros, the group’s registered lobbyist and whose political track record is pocked with assorted ethical lapses. The Maine Citizens Coalition website describes itself as “a  2013 with the mission of educating Maine Citizens about founding constitutional principles, the benefits of a free market, and to keep citizens informed about State and National issues.”

* Delaware Valley Fresh Fish: The company is a major exporter of baby fresh water eels, or elvers. As Kevin Miller reported Jan. 26, the Maine Department of Marine Resources is proposing legislation that would require elver exporters to obtain a license.

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Speaking of lobbying, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting story about how Time Warner Cable wooed state lawmakers at a Cape Elizabeth resort is starting to blow up. The piece was the source of a lengthy thread on Reddit, a commenting forum that can unleash the full power of the internet hoards (for good or ill).

The story also received some attention from the New York Times and was published by the Center for Public Integrity, which has been reporting on how TWC has been resisting state led efforts to expand and improve broadband internet access. TWC and rival media giant Comcast have the lion’s share of internet customers and have been protecting their massive marketshare.

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LePage went off script during his State of the State speech to claim that illegal immigrants — or “illegals” as he described them — could increase rates of of hepatitis C, HIV and tuberculosis in the U.S. because they don’t undergo health screenings upon entering the country.

The governor has made this claim before and he’s been criticized because his assertion isn’t backed by the data.

In November, LePage made the same claim during the height of the Kaci Hickox controversy. The Press Herald fact-checked the governor and found that hepatitis A and hepatitis B rates have been falling in the United States for years. While hepatitis C is indeed on the rise, studies have shown that the uptick is driven by young white people in suburban neighborhoods east of the Mississippi River who had abused prescription opioids in the past and had a recent history of intravenous drug use.

LePage isn’t the only politician to try and connect illegal immigrants with higher rates of disease. Last week the governor’s remarks were folded into a Washington Post fact-check of a Republican lawmaker and a prospective presidential candidate who claimed that increased incidents of measles cases was the result of illegal immigration. Those claims earned two Pinocchios and the WaPo check also found that immunization rates from Latin American countries — where much of the immigration comes from — were better than the United States.

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Check out what New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, is doing in the Granite State. Hassan, who apparently has designs on a congressional bid, is attempting to thwart an overtly politically motivated public records request for her travel receipts by invoking what’s known as executive privilege. In other words, Hassan and the state attorney general believe that the governor’s travels, some of which may be funded by taxpayers, are exempt from the public records law.