(The Center Square) — Special interest groups dropped more than $95 million on lobbying in New Jersey last year in an effort to sway elected officials on policies and proposed laws, according to newly released data.
A report New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission found while the lobbying expenditures dropped slightly in 2022, declining by 0.9% from the previous year, it was still the fourth-largest lobbying total on record for New Jersey.
The commission’s analysis of fees paid by represented entities to governmental affairs agents found the most lobbying dollars came from the healthcare industry, with firms spending $6.1 million and hospitals dropping another $3.1 million to hire multi-client firms. These two categories combined totaled $9.2 million, according to the report.
Other business sectors in the top 10 for New Jersey lobbying activity last year were energy, development, insurance, pharmaceuticals, transportation, finance, marijuana industry firms and telecommunications. Collectively, those sectors paid more than $36 million to professional lobbying firms, the report noted.
Receipts paid to lobbyists rose 5% in 2022 to $70 million, the report noted, with the top ten multi-client firms reaping the lion’s share of $45.7 million, or 65%, the report said.
While the overall number of lobbyists declined slightly from 2021 to 2022, to 914, the report noted the demand for lobbying services “set a record” for the fourth straight year as the number of clients reached 2,343 in 2022, a 2.6% increase over the preceding year.
Meanwhile, the amount spent on “benefit passing” — gifts like meals, trips or other things of value — given out by lobbyists rose 72 percent to $2,349. But it still remained below the $163,375 peak in 1992, according to the report.
The report’s authors also took a deep dive on lobbying expenditures over the past two decades. They found about two dozen special interest groups representing the health care, education, insurance, energy and other industries were responsible for one-fifth of the lobbying expenditures over the past 23 years, totaling more than $285 million.
“Most of these are large organizations with big financial stakes in New Jersey,” said Jeff Brindle, the group’s executive director. “Policies they support or oppose can have a significant impact on these organizations and the lives of New Jersey citizens.”
Topping the list of lobbying activity from 2000 to 2022 is the New Jersey Education Association, a teachers’ union, which has spent more than $52 million, the report noted.
Under a 1911 state law, industries that are heavily regulated by the state, and prohibited from making direct contributions to candidates so they have traditionally relied on lobbying. Among the top 25 lobbying spenders between 2000 and 2020 to 35%, or more than $105 million, was spent by state-regulated industries, the report noted.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, scores of emergency bills related to hospital care to business closures fueled a tidal wave of lobbying efforts to sway state policymakers.
Other big issues in recent years included approval of a special utility bill subsidy to keep nuclear power plants operating; restructuring the state’s largest health insurer; legalization of recreational marijuana use in the state; and approval of offshore windmills, the report’s authors noted.
But the report noted that latest lobbying numbers suggest activity “may be reverting to a more normal pattern” following a surge of spending during the pandemic.
“The last five years have been a relatively tumultuous time for the state and lobbyists,” Brindle said. “Things seem to be settling down somewhat.”