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Reports: Energy lobby tops at Legislature
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Reports: Energy lobby tops at Legislature

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In all, $3.65 million spent in 2001

HELENA - Nearly one of every four dollars spent to influence lawmakers and other state leaders this year came from special interests with ties to the energy industry, reports submitted to the state commissioner of political practices show.

PPL Montana spent the most of any organization in its effort to influence lawmakers in the debate over soaring electricity prices, which dominated the Legislature this year.

PPL, which bought Montana Power Co. generation plants in late 1999, spent $130,348 on lobbying efforts.

That was about $1,000 short of what Montana Power spent during the 1997 session, when it helped write the law that began the process of reducing government regulation of the electricity industry.

In all, 350 special-interest groups and state government agencies spent $3.65 million to lobby government, nearly all of that spent during the 90-day Legislature. Nearly $829,000 was spent by organizations that had interests in the outcome of energy legislation.

Seven of the top 10 spenders were front-row players in the debate over what to do about soaring electricity prices, their effect on either utilities or their customers, or alternative energy sources.

PPL spent an additional $24,000 after the session to lobby public officials on issues related to energy bills passed during the session.

As measured by the fate of bills targeted by the company, PPL had a successful session. Three of five bills the company said it supported were passed, and all but one of the bills opposed by the company failed.

Dan McCarthy, PPL spokesman, said the company measures its success during the session by its ability to convey information to lawmakers, not the scorecard on key bills.

"I believe our voice was heard, and that's really what your goal is in providing information through lobbying," he said.

No. 2 on the spending list was Colstrip Energy Limited Partnership, a group representing some of the owners of coal-fired power plants in southeastern Montana. Its lobbying bill totaled $119,440.

MEA-MFT, the teachers' union formed from the merger of the Montana Education Association and Montana Federation of Teachers, finished third in lobbyist spending with $111,014.

NorthWestern Corp., which is in the process of buying Montana Power's electrical and gas distribution and transmission networks, was fourth-highest with $109,481 in spending.

Montana Power ranked fifth at $92,857.

Others in the top 10 were Ash Grove Cement, which curtailed operations because it could not find affordable power; Redstone Gas Partners, involved in coalbed methane projects; and Columbia Falls Aluminum Co., which closed and resold its high-priced electricity.

Total lobbyist spending this year was up about $150,000, or 4 percent, from the level spent in the 1999 Legislature.

State agencies accounted for $151,137, or 4.1 percent of the total lobbying bill. That is almost identical to the amount government spent two years ago.

The biggest state spender was the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, at $16,668. That was more than three times what the agency spent in 1999.

The Revenue Department was a close second at $16,089, and the Historical Society ranked third with $15,938.

Montana Power's 22 registered lobbyists accounted for the most for a single organization. PPL Montana had 16.

Salaries for lobbyists accounted for the largest chunk of expenses. PPL spent $66,122 on wages, more than half its total expense. Colstrip partners spent $71,033 on salaries, almost 60 percent of its total spending.

Travel and entertainment also were big expenses.

For example, NorthWestern spent $907 to treat the House energy committee on three occasions at Helena restaurants. In another instance, the corporation spent $1,129 on the Senate energy committee at a restaurant.

The company reported a $501 tab at a restaurant for five key Republicans: Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas, Stevensville; House Taxation Chairman Bob Story, Park City; Speaker Pro Tempore Doug Mood, Seeley Lake; House Majority Leader Paul Sliter, Somers; and House energy committee Chairwoman Aubyn Curtiss, Fortine.

Montana Power hosted separate events for House and Senate leaders, costing a combined $442.

Lobbying money

A list showing what the top 10 nonstate parties spent on lobbying at the 2001 Legislature, as reported to the state commissioner of political practices.

Name……Total

PPL Montana……130,348

Colstrip Energy Limited Partnership……119,440

MEA-MFT……111,014

NorthWestern Corp…….109,481

Montana Power Co…….92,857

Ash Grove Cement……76,049

Redstone Gas Partners……72,801

Columbia Falls Aluminum Co…….72,208

Montana Farm Bureau Federation……66,055

Montana Assn. of Realtors……60,419

Associated Press

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