Politics & Government

These five organizations spent the most money lobbying Kentucky lawmakers this year

The Kentucky state Capitol in Frankfort
The Kentucky state Capitol in Frankfort jcheves@herald-leader.com

Kentucky's 2018 General Assembly contained lots of drama as lawmakers scrambled to pass pension reform and made the largest changes to Kentucky's tax system in a decade, among other things.

Helping fuel that drama was the $10.6 million spent lobbying lawmakers during the 2018 law-making session, the largest sum ever, according to the Legislative Ethics Commission.

Some of that money was spent on high-profile bills, like the $71,968 the Kentucky Education Association spent in efforts to beat back pension bills. Others were spent on bills that passed easily, like the $54,240 spent by an advocacy group called Marsy's Law, which was predictably pushing a constitutional amendment called Marsy's Law.

Neither of those groups were among the top spenders in 2018, which are listed below.

Altria - $379,760

A tobacco and cigarette company based in Virginia, Altria spent more than any other business or organization on the 2018 legislative session and more than twice the amount of the second highest group on the list.

That's because some lawmakers pushed harder than ever to raise the state's cigarette tax. Their effort succeeded, in part. The biennial budget passed by the legislature included a 50-cent tax increase on a pack of cigarettes, meaning smokers will have to pay $1.10 cents per pack starting in July.

Health advocates had hoped to increase the tax by $1 a pack. They also wanted to levy a tax on electronic cigarettes, but lawmakers balked. That's good for Altria, which has invested in vape shops and owns Nu Mark, a company focused on developing and marketing e-cigarettes.

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce - $187,103

The past two legislative sessions have been good to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. In 2017, several of the organization's priorities passed in the first week of the legislative session after being held up for years by a Democratic-led House of Representatives and governor.

In 2018, one of their highest priority bills was workers' compensation reform. House Bill 2 made several business-friendly reforms to the state's workers' compensation law, including a cap on how many years people with permanent partial disabilities —those who get hurt on the job but can still work — can collect workers' compensation.

LG&E/Kentucky Utilities - $126,858

Another controversial bill this session was an attempt to change an obscure law that encourages people to install solar panels on their homes.

House Bill 227, sponsored by Rep. Jim Gooch, R-Providence, bounced around in committee several times before clearing the House and heading to the Senate, where it failed to get a vote on the Senate floor before the session ended in April.

LG&E/Kentucky Utilities wasn't the only business lobbying on the bill. The Kentucky Chamber, the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives, the Big River Electric Corporation and the Kentucky Coal Association all spent more than $50,000 lobbying lawmakers.

Kentucky Hospital Association - $111,696

The Kentucky Hospital Association is typically among the top spenders during a legislative session and this year was no different. The legislature changed the state's income tax to a flat 5 percent and levied a sales tax on several services.

Health care services are the largest service exempted by Kentucky's tax code. Taxing them would have potentially raised $821.4 million for the state, but lawmakers chose instead to tax veterinary services on small animals and auto repair services, among others.

Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky - $110,766

Working opposite Altria, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky spent heavily to increase the cigarette tax. While they may have succeeded, they didn't get the total amount they wanted. An early bill in the legislative session pushed by the foundation would have raised the cigarette tax by $1.

Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission chairman George Troutman said on Wednesday, July 21, 2017, that the panel will appeal a federal judge's ruling that would let lobbyists give gifts and campaign donations to the lawmakers they're trying to inf