UPMC among lobbyists increasing focus on state lawmakers

Stateside lobbying is increasing nationally, and, in Pennsylvania, the UPMC nonprofit hospital chain and insurer spends the most on its attempts to influence lawmakers, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

In Pennsylvania, UPMC (the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) and the University of Pennsylvania spent the most on lobbying from 2010 to 2014. They are followed by Verizon Wireless, the FirstEnergy Corporation and the Comcast Corporation.

From 2010 through 2015, according to Pennsylvania Department of State records, UPMC spent nearly $6.3 million. The University of Pennsylvania spent $3.2 million on lobbying efforts. The three other companies devoted much less to lobbying. Verizon Wireless spent more than $1.7 million, while the Comcast Corporation spent $1.5 million. The FirstEnergy Corporation spent $99,605 on its lobbying efforts.

In just the last filing period, which includes October to December 2015, UPMC spent $247,755 on lobbying regarding topics of health care, tobacco, nursing homes and mental health. In the same period, the University of Pennsylvania devoted $96,098 to lobbying on issues of agriculture, education and hospitals.

Nationally, the number of lobbyists in each state, including part-time “hired guns” has increased by 10 percent in the past five years, according to the Center for Public Integrity report.

The report showed 21 companies, including Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Pfizer and AARP, had lobbied in all 50 states from 2010 to 2014.

“These presumably are companies that to some extent are doing business in all 50 states and believe that state policies are increasingly going to be important to their bottom line. They tend to want more uniformity across the states because it’s a lower compliance burden for them,” Thomas Holyoke, a professor of political science at Fresno State University, told CPI.

They’ve also have lost patience with the feds. According to the CPI report, “bipartisan issues” among federal lawmakers are slowing the process down.

According to Congressional Quarterly Roll Call data, in the last two years, federal lawmakers passed 352 bills, while state lawmakers pushed for 45,000.

Nationally, federal lobbying in 2014 decreased by 25 percent from 2010 levels.

While federal lobbying is falling, state lawmakers are being overwhelmed by companies, trade associations and unions. According to the CPI report, every state lawmaker was outnumbered by six interest groups on average. In Pennsylvania, the “entity to lawmaker ratio” is five.

The CPI report acknowledged that states have various policies for lobbying and registration, making it difficult to form state-by-state comparisons.

In Pennsylvania, five state senators began a campaign to reform the state’s lobbyist laws last month.

“Lobbyists have their place in the legislative process but the influence they wield continues to grow exponentially and must be reined in,” Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York County, said in a statement.

The new legislation would include six bills making the Department of State’s audit of the lobbyist organization public and increasing penalties for violations.

According to a separate CPI report from 2015, Pennsylvania received an F grade for political financing, legislative accountability and ethics enforcement agencies. For public access to information, the state earned a D+.

Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster County, said in a statement the new legislation could help improve transparency.

“If we are going to change the culture in Harrisburg, then we need commonsense reforms like the ones proposed here,” Aument said. “I am proud to support a bill that would let the public know which lobbyists are being compliant...Sunshine is one of the most powerful tools we have in improving our government.”

Reach PublicSource intern Lauren Rosenblatt at lrosenblatt@publicsource.org. Follow her on Twitter @LRosenblatt_.