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Climate bills have drawn the most lobbying in Colorado’s 2022 legislative session

Spending continues to rise, with Xcel Energy topping list
The Colorado State Capitol in Denver. (Olivia Sun/The Colorado Sun file)

Efforts to address climate change are among the most lobbied measures at the Capitol this year as a host of businesses and nonprofits seek to pass, block or amend them.

Five of the top 10 lobbied bills this year at the General Assembly address greenhouse gas emissions, according to a Colorado Sun analysis of lobbying disclosures. Others on the top 10 list include measures seeking to prohibit employers from punishing employees who use cannabis when they aren’t working, which was rejected last week, and to ban flavored nicotine and tobacco products.

Nearly 600 individual lobbyists and lobbying firms are representing more than 1,100 clients before the Legislature and state agencies this year. And spending by those clients to influence government continues to rise as the Legislature enters the home stretch of its 2022 lawmaking term.

Spending from July 2021 through the end of February totaled $29.4 million. That’s up from $26.2 million during the same period of the 2020-21 fiscal year and $24.5 million in 2019-20.

Most-lobbied bills not always most publicized

It’s not always the case that the most-lobbied bills at the Capitol are the ones that garner the most public attention.

Take the measure to affirm abortion access in Colorado and prevent local governments from hindering access to abortion or birth control. It drew late-night public hearings and a 24-hour House floor debate, yet only 53 lobbyists registered to represent 31 clients on the legislation, House Bill 1279. (It’s now awaiting Gov. Jared Polis’ signature.)

Senate Bill 153, which seeks to block insider threats to Colorado’s election system, prompted plenty of emails and phone calls from opponents who believe false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. But the measure has drawn only 36 lobbyists representing 17 clients. None of those clients opposed the bill.

That’s considerably fewer than the 116 clients trying to influence the top two bills in The Sun’s lobbying analysis: Senate Bill 138, which sought to limit the sale of gas-powered lawn equipment, and House Bill 1152, which would have prevented employers from taking action against workers who use cannabis products on their own time. (The former was amended, and the latter was voted down last week by a House committee.)

And 141 lobbyists are representing 87 clients on House Bill 1064, a measure aimed at keeping flavored nicotine products away from young people.

Some of the most lobbied bills this year didn’t make it very far in the legislative process. In fact, three of the top 10 lobbied measures never made it past their first committee.

House Bill 1138 would have given employers an income-tax credit to encourage employees to use alternative transportation to and from work, but failed 9-1 in the House Finance Committee. Senate Bill 131 sought to restrict the use of pesticides in certain places in an effort to “protect pollinators,” but it failed 6-1 in the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

And Thursday, a House committee rejected the measure allowing employees to use marijuana on their own time.

All but one of the other top 10 bills are still going through the legislative process. A measure to protect whistleblowers in public health emergencies awaits action on the Senate floor.

Top spenders often lobbying on top bills

Xcel Energy is signed up to lobby on seven of the 10 most-lobbied bills at the Capitol this year. The company is also the top spender on lobbying in the first eight months of the fiscal year, which began on July 1.

Spending nearly $286,000, Xcel pays eight lobbyists, three of whom are employees and the rest contractors.

The AARP was second in lobbying spending, paying two employees nearly $144,000 to lobby on more than 70 bills, including two in the top 10.

The Colorado Association of Home Builders lobbied on eight of the top 10 measures, while paying four individual lobbyists a total of $132,000.

The Colorado Contractors Association and Colorado Retail Council each lobbied on six of the top 10 bills. The contractors came in third in spending, paying David Foster $133,000, while the retail council came in eighth in spending, paying The Howes Group nearly $128,000.

COPIC, the state’s primary medical malpractice insurer, didn’t lobby on any of the top 10 bills. It paid Nexus Policy Group $131,000 to lobby on six other measures.

Several groups spending to influence public on issues

Reaching out to lawmakers or regulators isn’t the only way lobbyists or their clients try to influence public policy.

Some also report spending to get the public to lobby lawmakers on issues.

Advance Colorado Action lobbyist Michael Fields, for example, reported spending $300,000 on lobbying so far this year. Of that, $200,000 went to digital ads on fentanyl penalties, several of which target Democratic lawmakers running in competitive state Senate contests this year. Another $100,000 went to digital ads and direct mail opposing a measure to allow government employees to bargain for pay raises. Advance Colorado Action is a nonprofit that doesn’t report its donors, and changed its name earlier this year after operating as Unite for Colorado.

Jesse Mallory, executive director of Americans for Prosperity’s Colorado branch, reported spending nearly $89,000 on digital ads, door hangers and canvassing to encourage lawmakers to enact tax refunds. Some of the spending also encouraged opposition to Senate Bill 138 on lawn mowers and other measures.

And Liz Welch, a lobbyist for the national American Civil Liberties Union, reported spending nearly $51,000 on polling and lobbying research.

But those amounts pale compared to the million-dollar ad campaigns of recent years by the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, last year’s top lobbying spender. That group opposed a measure aimed at reducing health care costs through a dramatic increase in insurance regulations. That group paid a lobbyist $20,000 in August, and ended its Colorado lobbying activities after that.

How we did this analysis

The Colorado Sun received data about lobbying income and bills lobbied by lobbyists and their clients from the Secretary of State’s Office.

It analyzed the data using Python programming, making best efforts to standardize client names, and removing income paid by lobbying firms to lobbyists, which can result in double counting.

In Excel, additional records are removed that report income from clients instead of the lobbying firms paying the lobbyists. In identifying the most-lobbied measures, we identified the top measures lobbied by clients and lobbyists.

Then data on individual bills was downloaded, cleaned and analyzed.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.