Last year, more than 300 special interest groups paid lobbyists $4.3 million to listen and watch while Mississippi legislators were in session. The year before? About $4.8 million.
With over 3,000 bills introduced annually, lobbyists get paid to know what bills are being introduced and to provide legislators with information to support their clients’ view. Most top lobbyists are attorneys by profession. Some lobby only for their legal clients; others place special interest groups on retainer — just in case. From January to April, keeping up with legislative schedules is a juggling act.
“If we didn’t have lobbyists, we would have to greatly increase our staff,” said Charlie Capps, chairman of the appropriations committee for the House of Representatives. “There’s no way for each legislator to know what’s in the bills. Lobbyists are extremely beneficial to us.”
Casino groups, including Beau Rivage, Boyd Tunica, Grand Casinos and Harrah’s Entertainment, paid the highest fees in 1998 — an average of $50,000.
Jackson attorney Beth Clay was the most highly paid lobbyist again, reeling in $450,050 in 1998, down exactly $100,000 from the year before. In 1996, Clay’s lobbyist income was roughly $500,000. Clay’s 31 clients represented special interest groups ranging from alcohol and tobacco to health care and telecommunications. Anheuser-Busch, one of Clay’s top clients, paid $14,000 less than the prior year. At $40,000, Boyd Tunica Inc. was one of Clay’s top paying clients last year. This year, Boyd Tunica Inc. paid lobbyist Stephen Andrew Dickson $54,000 instead.
Numerous shifts between lobbyists and their clients took place in the 1998 session. Spencer E. “Buddy” Medlin, who has been a lobbyist for more than 40 years and worked in the consumer finance industry before that, only brought in $75,500. The year before, his take was $455,131.
“Lobbying is the art of working with people,” Medlin said last year. “There are no books or courses. Clients come and go.”
Janet Cox, who drew $97,000 in 1997, picked up only $12,500 in 1998 — from International Game Technologies. Clare L. Hester, who made $229,160 in 1997, almost doubling her 1996 figures, only picked up $6,000 in lobbying income last year — from Ericsson Inc.
“There’s no formula,” said David Blount, spokesperson for the secretary of state. “Lobbyists’ compensation is determined by clients and lobbyists.”
Clifford C. Thompson slid into second place for top lobbyist pay, jumping from $159,854 to $207,578 in one year. In the same time period, Harrah’s Entertainment reported an increase in lobbyist compensation to Thompson from $37,393 to $53,158 and Cable Telecommunications Association of Mississippi paid him $34,311 compared to the previous year’s $12,433.
With Boyd Tunica’s compensation, Dickson moved up a spot as the third highest-paid lobbyist. Sliding in at No. 4, Charles E. Lea increasing his earnings from $140,986 to $167,461 by adding clients instead of increasing fees. Lobbyist Burke Campbell Murphy stayed about par with the previous year’s earnings.
“Lobbying is a profession which is a necessary part of the process to keep all parties informed of all sides of an issue,” said Jackson attorney Dennis Miller of Watkins, Ludlam and Stennis, whose lobbying income ranked sixth.
Robert Andrew “Andy” Taggert, former chief-of-staff for Governor Kirk Fordice, picked up $77,490, about half of his 1997 fees. With only four clients, R. Scott Levanway made an even $75,000.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.