Nevada tops list on federal lobbyist spending, near bottom on returns

By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: A dozen Nevada government entities spent more than $1.7 million taxpayer dollars last year to hire lobbyists in Washington, DC and have racked up nearly $400,000 in expenses in the first quarter of this year, according to data gathered by the national group Center for Responsive Politics.

The state of Nevada has spent $110,000 so far this year, placing the state 7th among all 900 government entities included in the report, which is found on the group’s website opensecrets.org. Nevada ranks 2nd among states for spending on lobbyists in Washington, DC.

Nevada spent $435,000 last year and ranked No. 2 among the states for such spending behind Pennsylvania. Funding for Nevada’s lobbying effort comes from the general fund, room taxes and other sources.

Nevada’s lobbying effort includes its Washington Office with $280,000 in spending, and $155,000 by the state Department of Transportation, according to the group’s website.

While the state leads in spending, many other Nevada government entities also pay for Washington, DC lobbyists, including Nye County, which spent $200,000 in 2009 and $50,000 so far this year. Nye County has only 46,000 residents.

The City of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, Reno, Sparks and Carson City also spend money on DC lobbyists, as do Washoe and Clark counties and some other entities.

Nevada, North Las Vegas, Henderson, Nye County and the City of Las Vegas were in the top 100 on federal lobbyist spending in 2009. Henderson, Nye County and North Las Vegas each spent $200,000, according to the report. Las Vegas spent $165,000.

Dave Levinthal, communications director for the center, said it is difficult to track whether the investment in lobbyists brings a return to the government entities. For some it may pay off, but for others it would probably be better to spend the money on paving a street or hiring a police officer, he said.

The organization takes no position on the spending; only reporting the data on a quarterly basis.

There are two schools of thought on the spending, Levinthal said. One is that governments have to be aggressive in the competition for federal funds. The other is that spending local taxpayer money to get federal taxpayer money is inappropriate, he said.

“There is absolutely no guarantee,” Levinthal said. “This is a gamble any way you cut it.”

The first quarter spending suggests the local government entities are on a pace to spend more this year than in any previous year, he said.

Last year state and local government entities spent over $83 million on Washington lobbyists.

Nye County Manager Richard Osborne said the spending by the county on a Washington lobbyist is primarily directed at Yucca Mountain and the desire by the county to see the nuclear waste repository project go forward.

The county gets about $12 million a year now in funding connected to the project, very close to 10 percent of the entire annual budget, he said. The loss of the project, which now seems possible, would be a big financial hit to Nye County, Osborne said.

“We believe that Yucca Mountain is a viable option for storage of nuclear spent fuel,” he said.

The county’s lobbyist, the law firm Akerman Senterfitt, also helps the county with other projects and issues, he said.

Nevada’s Washington office is run by Ryan McGinness, son of state Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon. In a report to the 2009 Legislature, which reviews the budget for the office every session, the firm, District Strategies, noted that it worked with Nevada’s Senate delegation to successfully oppose an amendment that would have cost the state $75 million in federal Medicaid revenue. The firm also assisted in bringing $40 million in additional funding for foreclosure mediation.

The office has come in for criticism by some members of the Nevada Legislature in past sessions, including the 2009 session. Democrat lawmakers have questioned the necessity of the office.

In 2005, Democrats on the Assembly Ways and Means Committee held up funding for the office because of a lack of a detailed budget. Ultimately the office was funded.

But other lawmakers have argued that given Nevada’s poor ranking on the receipt of federal revenues that the investment in the Washington office is worthwhile.

Nevada only gets about 65 cents in federal funds for each tax dollar sent to the federal government. New Mexico is at the other end of the scale getting more than $2 for each tax dollar sent to Washington.

___

audio clips:

Dave Levinthal says some may question the money spent by governments on federal lobbying efforts during tough economic times:

Levinthal says investing in lobbying is a gamble:

Nye County Manager Richard Osborne says loss of Yucca funding would be a blow:

Assemblyman James Settelmeyer says federal lobbying has pros, cons:

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