Nearly $51 million was spent lobbying the Colorado legislature and state government last fiscal year, a record amount even when adjusted for inflation.
That’s according to a Colorado Sun analysis of lobbying data from the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office from July 1, 2022, through June 30.
Five of the 20 most heavily lobbied bills in the legislature this year didn’t pass and another was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis. The rest — 14 measures — passed and were signed into law.
Businesses dominated the list of the top 15 lobbying clients, accounting for 41% of the total spending during the 2022-23 fiscal year.
In all, more than 1,200 clients — including nonprofits and local governments — paid more than 700 lobbyists and lobbying firms to represent them.
Housing efforts drew plenty of lobbying attention
The two bills that drew the largest number of lobbyists and lobbying firms at the Colorado Capitol this year didn’t pass.
The most lobbied was Senate Bill 213, a land-use measure promoted by Polis as a way to tackle Colorado’s affordable housing crisis. The legislation drew 213 lobbyists and lobbying firms representing nearly 200 clients. Lobbyists and their clients don’t break down cost per bill.
The second most lobbied was House Bill 1118, a measure aimed at requiring employers to provide more certainty in worker scheduling. There were more than 200 lobbyists representing about 160 clients on the legislation. House Bill 1118 died in its first committee, with only two of the 10 lawmakers on the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee supporting it.
The pair were among 20 bills debated that drew at least 100 lobbyists and lobbying firms.
There was plenty of public pressure that accompanied the intense lobbying on Senate Bill 213.
“I ran an abortion bill and a gun bill,” said state Rep. Meg Froelich, D-Englewood, who chairs the House Transportation, Housing and Local Government Committee. “And 213 surpassed both of those combined in outreach to my office, and, frankly, in vitriol.”
Many of the more than 50 groups opposing the measure were local governments and the associations representing them.
“Most of us have pretty good relationships with our local governments,” Froelich said. “They’re calling us, they’re calling our office. They’re having people call our office.”
Former state Reps. Joe Miklosi, a Democrat, and Mark Waller, a Republican, now work as lobbyists. Both represented several governments, including Grand, Logan and Montrose counties, that opposed the measure.
Waller and Miklosi often work together. Waller said lobbying by professionals didn’t make all the difference in defeating the bill.
“Having all these local governments reach out was probably an even bigger impact,” Waller said. “So elected officials (talking) to elected officials, which is a big part of what lobbying is — it’s connecting those local government elected officials to their state representatives and to their state senators.”
Democrats in the House and Senate couldn’t agree on the legislation’s final form, and it died in the Senate on the final night of this year’s lawmaking term.
Other housing measures that failed or were vetoed:
- House Bill 1115, which would have let local governments enact rent control policies. It was rejected in a Senate committee.
- House Bill 1171, which was aimed at reducing evictions. The so-called just-cause evictions bill died when it failed to come up for a final vote on the Senate floor.
- Polis vetoed House Bill 1190, which would have given local governments a first right of refusal to buy certain multi-family housing.
“If I had to give us a score for last session, I’d almost give us a ‘D,’” said Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, chair of the Senate Local Government and Housing Committee. “We just did not as Democrats come together to truly address the housing crisis. And that’s my biggest disappointment from last session.”
Jacquez Lewis said lobbying was in large part to blame.
Jaquez Lewis and Froelich said the lobbying resulted in frequent amendments to the housing measures. And they said they’re working with lobbyists, local governments and others to craft solutions for the next session.
“I don’t believe that anyone is going to come back with a sweeping land-use bill (like the one) that the majority leader tried to do with the governor,” Jaquez Lewis said. “But I do believe there’s several of us that are going to try again to address the housing crisis, because it really, truly is an emergency.”
Top spenders include familiar names
Xcel Energy topped the list of lobbying clients in the 2022-23 fiscal year. The state’s largest utility spent nearly $510,000 employing eight lobbyists who monitored 35 bills during the legislative session, which ran from January through early May.
Xcel has been the state’s top lobbying spender in several recent years with the exception of 2021, when a national nonprofit spent heavily to water down a health insurance measure.
“We work with state lawmakers primarily to make sure the bills being considered during the legislative session are beneficial to our customers,” said Xcel spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo in a statement. “This year, we had more significant advocacy as we monitored bills covering everything from cybersecurity and workforce issues to consumer protections and tax credits, as well as energy policy.”
She also noted that a new law requiring utilities to pay for lobbying from shareholder funds won’t impact Xcel.
“Our longstanding practice has been to ensure that the cost of lobbying expenses is borne by shareholders and not customers,” she said.
Sage Therapeutics, a biotech company lobbying on mental health treatments, was No. 2 on list after paying more than $361,000 to four lobbyists to monitor nine bills. COPIC Insurance Co., the state’s medical malpractice insurance provider, was the third top spender, followed by HCA Healthcare, Black Hills Corp. and the Colorado Chamber of Commerce.
Two tobacco companies made the top 20 list, though their lobbying was targeted at only one or two bills.
RAI Services and Altria Client Services lobbied on a measure further regulating tobacco sales, though neither company declared to be lobbying for or against the bill. Altria also employed a team of eight lobbyists to monitor a measure that will ask voters to retain more money from an increased tax on nicotine products.
Two local governments made the list of the state’s top 15 spenders. The city of Denver paid just over $200,000 for lobbying, while Boulder County spent $193,000.
Spending to change public perception
Lobbyists often try to influence public perception through TV, radio and digital ads, as well as mailers and phone calls. And lobbyists are supposed to report that spending along with their income from clients.
That public outreach spending declined this year compared with the previous three years, The Sun’s analysis found.
In 2020, for example, the Partnership for America’s Healthcare Future, a national nonprofit, lobbied heavily against a measure to create a public option health care plan. It spent nearly $4.4 million on TV advertising and other outreach in fiscal year 2019-20, and nearly $547,000 on outreach the following fiscal year.
Last year, Michael Fields, president of the conservative political nonprofit Advance Colorado Action, reported spending $700,000 on digital ads and mailers to generate opposition or support for several issues.
This year, a lobbyist for DoorDash reported spending $235,000 on phone calls and other “grassroots” expenses. A lobbyist for Uber reported spending $75,000 on advertising. Both companies opposed a bill to boost pay transparency for drivers who work for delivery and rideshare companies. A Senate committee rejected the bill in a 5-2 vote.
Jesse Mallory, state director for Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political nonprofit, reported spending $233,000 on advertising and other public outreach efforts to generate support or opposition for a variety of issues.
How we did this analysis
The Colorado Sun received data on lobbying income, bills lobbied by lobbyists and their clients, and more from the Secretary of State’s Office. The data was analyzed using Python programming, making best efforts to standardize client names, and removing income paid by lobbying firms to lobbyists, which can result in double counting. In Excel, additional records are removed that report income from clients instead of the lobbying firms paying the lobbyists.
In identifying the most lobbied measures, we identified the top measures lobbied by clients and lobbyists. Then data on individual bills was downloaded, cleaned and analyzed.