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Chamber leads spending to lobby Kentucky legislature in January

The Kentucky state Capitol building in Frankfort.
Ryan Van Velzer
The Kentucky Capitol building in Frankfort.

Hundreds of organizations spent nearly $3 million to lobby the Kentucky General Assembly in January, with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce leading the way.

More than 800 businesses and organizations have already spent a collective $2.8 million to lobby state legislators in the first month of the Kentucky General Assembly’s 2024 session, with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce topping that list.

Thursday was the deadline for employers of registered lobbyists to file their January spending reports with the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission. The reports document what they paid to lobbyists, what bills and issues they lobbied for or against and what they spent on consultants and advertising to sway legislators.

The $25.5 million of spending to lobby the legislature in 2023 shattered the previous state record, and spending from this January already outpaces the first month of that year.

Here’s a look at some of the top lobbying spenders so far in the 2024 session, what they spent their money on and what legislation they were trying to advance or hinder.

Chamber reclaims top spending spot

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce is typically the top legislative lobbying spender in Frankfort, as the business advocacy led all groups for four consecutive years before placing second in 2023.

In January, the chamber reported spending $51,720, with nearly all of that going to its 14 registered lobbyists.

The chamber listed 22 bills that it was lobbying on in January, including House Bill 7 to allow driverless vehicles on Kentucky roads by this summer. The bill, passed by the House this week, is supported by the chamber.

The chamber also supports Senate Bill 203 to spend $300 million on extra assistance for child care providers — viewing it as a workforce participation issue — and House Bill 179 to allow voluntary paid family leave insurance, which passed that chamber last month.

Greater Louisville Inc., the chamber of commerce for the city and region, also placed fourth in lobbying spending with $27,800, all directed to its seven lobbyists.

The local chamber reported lobbying on the state budget bills and House Bill 136, which would limit the power of Louisville air pollution regulatory agency. The bill passed the House chamber last month with GLI’s support.

GLI has also lobbied on House Bill 388, which would make Louisville’s local elections nonpartisan and mandate other changes to city spending and services. A GLI spokesperson says the group is “in discussions with legislators and stakeholders on the bill,” which passed the chamber this week with only Republican support.

The Louisville chamber is also lobbying on House Bill 9 and Senate Bill 93, which would prohibit diversity, equity and inclusion measures in public higher education and public K-12 schools, respectively. The GLI spokesperson said the group is “monitoring and communicating concerns to leadership” about how SB 93 could impact Jefferson County Public Schools.

GLI’s 2024 state policy agenda stresses the need for diversity and inclusion, stating that “lawmakers must adamantly oppose any legislative or regulatory action that could be perceived as discriminatory or unwelcoming and instead embrace policies that foster diversity, inclusion, and equity.”

Ad spending on child care and Frankfort internet control

Two newcomers to the list of top lobbying spenders in January are the Save the Children Action Fund and the Frankfort Plant Board, the city utility that provides electricity, water, cable and internet.

Save the Children ranked third in spending with $28,472, largely due to the $20,000 it spent on digital advertising and a mobile billboard to support increased state investments on child care.

The advocacy group also lobbied for two bills that would increase free meals for students, Senate Bill 34 to provide $551 million of spending to boost child care and support for new mothers, and for $300 million of increased assistance for child care providers.

The Frankfort Plant Board placed fifth among groups in lobbying spending with $27,605, gearing up opposition to a proposal of Republican Sen. Gex Williams of Verona to force the utility to sell its telecommunications services.

The utility’s report shows that it spent more than $10,000 on TV and billboard advertisements opposing such a bill, while also spending nearly that amount on public relations consultant RunSwitch, which typically works for Republican or conservative clients.

Though Williams released draft legislation before the session, he has not yet filed the bill to force a sale of any Frankfort Plant Board services.

ACLU, attorneys and ‘Safer Kentucky Act’

Placing second in lobbying spending for the month was the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, which spent $29,479 mostly on the salary and expenses of their 12 lobbyists.

The organization reported lobbying against the anti-DEI HB 9 and House Bill 5, a wide-ranging anti-crime bill that the ACLU has heavily criticized as draconian. Dubbed the Safer Kentucky Act, HB 5 cleared that chamber with all Republicans’ support but has not yet been taken up in the Senate.

The ACLU also reported lobbying in support of several bills to increase funding and support for child care, maternal care, paid family leave and criminal record expungement.

The Kentucky Justice Association, an organization of trial attorneys, reported $22,911 in January, lobbying on 20 bills, including HB 5. Its CEO indicated the group has not yet taken an official position on HB 5.

Electric utilities among top 20 lobbying spenders

Four different electric utility providers placed in the top 20 of lobbying spenders in January, with the East Kentucky Power Cooperative finishing seventh with $24,186, mostly on its one lobbyist.

The nonprofit cooperative utility, governed by 16 member-owned co-ops, reported lobbying on issues related to electric utilities and 50 different filed bills. The Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives also finished 16th in lobbying spending.

LG&E and Kentucky Utilities, which is the electric utility provider for the majority of Kentucky counties, and Duke Energy, which serves six counties in northern Kentucky, also placed among the top spenders.

Both LG&E and Duke reported lobbying against House Bill 180, which would prevent the companies from disconnecting the service of customers during periods when it is dangerously hot or cold. While the bill has not been assigned to a committee yet and is sponsored by a member of the Democratic minority — Rep. Lisa Willner of Louisville — it has picked up four Republican co-sponsors.

LG&E and Duke also both reported $6,666 in expenses under a line item of the report that typically indicates the hiring of a consultant or commissioning of a poll, though their reports do not specify what this was spent on.

Hospitals, retailers and cities

The Kentucky Hospital Association placed sixth in lobbying spending last month with $24,791, all directed towards its six lobbyists.

The hospital group lobbied against two bills that would allow freestanding birth centers, while supporting House Bill 194, which would increase criminal penalties for hospital employees assaulted on the job. The group also lobbied for Senate Bill 27 of Republican Sen. Stephen Meredith of Leitchfield, which aims to prevent the costs of pharmaceuticals from increasing at their facilities. The bill has not yet received a hearing.

The Kentucky Retail Federation placed ninth in spending $22,095, reporting that it lobbied on nearly 200 bills in January. The advocacy group of retail stores also reported spending $4,000 on consulting to RunSwitch.

The Kentucky League of Cities rounded out the Top 10 spenders with $21,585, all on compensation for its 15 lobbyists advocating for local governments.

Joe is the enterprise statehouse reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Lexington, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email Joe at jsonka@lpm.org.

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