State Lobbyist Numbers Dwindle While New Clients Arrive

The number of lobbyists and firms representing clients at the state Capitol has dropped, but that doesn’t mean that out-of-state corporations have lost interest in Colorado.

There are a variety of new businesses and advocacy groups that have retained lobbying services for the first time during the 2008 legislative session, including a prominent restaurant chain, a pro-Israel lobbying group and a private company that offers substance-abuse treatment. In 2007, approximately 560 firms and individuals were registered to work at the Capitol as professional lobbyists. In 2008, that number has fallen to 460, according to data from the Secretary of State’s office. Information for previous years was not available.

Although there are no immediate theories to explain the drop, official records show that money spent on lobbying in Colorado has been steadily increasing in the state for more than 12 years, with an estimated $25 million being spent in 2007. During the last legislative session, Xcel Energy used the greatest amount of money for lobbying purposes, spending a total of $112,000.

On top of that, new out-of-state clients have come to the Capitol seeking representation, according to state data.

Brinker International, a Texas-based company and owner of restaurant chains like Chili’s and the Macaroni Grill, has hired a lobbyist for representation in Colorado. The Digimarc Corporation, an Oregon business specializing in I.D. technology, has also joined the bandwagon by employing representation at the legislature.

Oklahoma company Avalon Correctional Services, which runs privatized halfway houses in Colorado, has hired lobbying firm Defilippo, Rees, and Robinette, LLC, for the 2008 session. Hythiam Inc., a California-based company that offers proprietary substance-abuse recovery programs, has also gotten into the game.

But while these for-profit entities are taking an interest in Colorado politics, there are also advocacy groups and government organizations that chose to employ lobbyists this year.

The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, a group of more than 30 organizations concerned with immigration, has hired a lobbyist for the first time. Meanwhile, the Washington, D.C.-based American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a self-declared “pro-Israel” organization, has employed lobbyists Jesse Dickerman and Mark Toubin for representation.

The state data does not include volunteer lobbyists who do not receive income.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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