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ST. PAUL — An organization representing greater Minnesota cities continues to lead spending of local government lobbying groups.

State Auditor Rebecca Otto’s office reports that the latest information, for 2013, shows the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities spent $835,674 on lobbying activities during the legislative session that resulted in a two-year, $39 billion budget funded by state taxpayers. The coalition is coordinated by a Twin Cities law firm that provides lobbyists for the group.

The coalition long has been the top spender lobbying for local governments.

Cities No. 2, too

The second-biggest spender was the League of Minnesota Cities, which used $628,945 on lobbying. Most members of the coalition also pay dues to the league.

The only other organization to spend more than $500,000 was the Minnesota School Boards Association.

While most local government lobbying money comes via associations, some governments also hire their own lobbyists or have paid staff members do their lobbying work.

Flaherty and Hood law office in St. Paul received $894,740 from the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and others who hired the firm to lobby state officials. That almost doubled the next highest-earning lobbying organization.

Overall, local governments spent more than $8 million on lobbying last year, up 3.3 percent from a year earlier.

The issue always is controversial in the Capitol because some lawmakers and taxpayers’ groups complain about the public paying taxes to one government to lobby another government.

Local governments often pay for more than one association to represent them, and some also hire their own lobbyists.

Red Wing’s costs

Take Red Wing, for instance. The city paid the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, Coalition of Utility Cities, League of Minnesota Cities and Minnesota Environmental Science and Economic Review Board a total of $42,384 for lobbying, a portion of dues. It also spent $35,179 on two other lobbying services, Flaherty and Hood and Hill Capitol Strategies, according to the auditor’s report.

North in Duluth, the city paid the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and League of Minnesota Cities a total of $35,343 to lobby. Duluth also paid $46,504 to a lobbying firm.

In the west, Moorhead paid the same two city organizations and the Minnesota Environmental Science and Review Board $62,239 for lobbying and hired two lobbying firms for $45,000.

Willmar, meanwhile, paid the three associations that Moorhead paid $29,278, but did not hire any lobbyists of its own.

Governments often hire lobbyists when legislators are considering a public works project they want funded.

Associations are more likely to deal with general items such as bills affecting property taxes or state aid.

Otto’s office reported that 84 local governments hired their own lobbyists, with the vast majority relying on associations to represent their interests.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.