Vermont Public Interest Research Group executive director Paul Burns
The biggest spenders of Vermont's 2017 legislative session included a liberal advocacy group, the state workers' union and a trade group representing hospitals. Each shelled out more than $100,000 on direct lobbying expenditures over a five-month period, according to a database maintained by the Secretary of State's Office.
From January 15 to June 15, 364 groups collectively devoted $5,445,009 to lobbying — slightly less than the $5,583,285 spent last year during the same time period. The Vermont Public Interest Research Group, the Vermont State Employees' Association and the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems led the way — each spending $25,000 more than the No. 4 lobbyist employer, Entergy, which owns the shuttered Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
VPIRG spent $113,738 to push an assortment of liberal causes in the Vermont Statehouse. It focused on environmental issues — including climate change, toxic chemicals and recycling — and an ethics reform bill, which passed in watered-down form.
At various points during the 2017 session, some 36 people registered as lobbyists for VPIRG, according to the database. Many were members of the nonprofit's staff, but others were contract lobbyists for the Montpelier firms Ellis Mills Public Affairs and the Necrason Group.
VPIRG consistently ranks among Vermont's top lobbying groups. Executive director Paul Burns said that's because it frequently faces off against deep-pocketed opponents.
"The range of issues we're involved with is very broad, and so if you were to look at the number of lobbyists and lobbying organizations and corporations on the other side that we're up against, we're still certainly out-resourced in these kinds of campaigns," Burns said. He noted that only a handful of the VPIRG staffers listed as lobbyists were regularly in the Statehouse.
The Vermont State Employees' Association also had a large presence in the Statehouse, spending $110, 475, and employing eight lobbyists.
"State employees had a lot at stake in this legislative session," said VSEA executive director Steve Howard. "We had a new administration and new legislators, and we believe very strongly in going on the offensive."
Among the union's victories: quashing Gov. Scott's proposal to close the Windsor prison; winning collective bargaining rights for states' attorneys and securing a pay increase for docket clerks. The VSEA also pushed for paid family leave, which didn't pass, and waded into a debate over teachers' health insurance, even though state workers weren't involved. It did so in solidarity with the educators' union, the Vermont-National Education Association, which spent $52,555, most of it during the final month of the session.
It was sleepy year for health care issues, but the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems still spent $105, 871 and employed 12 lobbyists, including members of the firm MMR.
"As in previous years, the 2017 legislative session focused significantly on health policy as important issues from mental health care to Medicaid payments were considered by legislators," VAHHS president and CEO Jeff Tieman said. "As the association representing Vermont's network of not-for-profit hospitals, we work to be an engaged and constructive voice in the State House."
Individual hospitals also shelled out on their own, led by the University of Vermont Health Network, which had a lobbying tab of $53,896.
The following entities spent more than $50,000 on lobbying during Vermont's legislative session:
Vermont Public Interest Research Group ($113,738)
Vermont State Employees' Association ($110,475)
Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems ($105,870)
Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee ($75,000)
FairPoint Communications ($60,827)
Green Mountain Power ($54,442)
The University of Vermont Health Network ($53,896)