By Dan Linehan
---- — Every year, local governments hire lawyers and pay associations to represent their interests — to lobby — at the state capitol. An annual report from the Office of the State Auditor put that spending at $7.8 million in 2012, a 6 percent decline from 2011.
The $93,795 that Mankato spent fills an “almost essential” need for the city, said Pat Hentges, the city manager. The bills, amendments, hearings and other business at the Legislature have consequences for cities.
“And it comes very fast,” Hentges said. “Things happen overnight.”
Of Mankato’s lobbying tab, $43,560 comes in the form of dues paid to the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. The city’s total dues to the group are higher, $69,919, but only 62.3 percent of those dues are used on lobbying.
Most of the rest comes from its contract with the St. Paul law firm Flaherty & Hood. That contract varies year-to-year; the city spent $37,129 last year, about half as much the year before and about halfway between those totals in 2010.
Hentges said the city gets help from Flaherty & Hood on civic center bonding. The law firm received $638,001 from lobbying in 2012, the biggest beneficiary of such spending in the state.
Though cities and counties together account for about 55 percent of spending on lobbying, the biggest individual share, 36 percent, comes from so-called “other local entities.”
One such is the South Central Service Cooperative, which provides services to local government, mostly schools. It spent $14,786 in lobbying in 2012, split about equally between two firms.
Glenn Morris, director of technology and applied academics, said the cooperative doesn’t have the resources to devote around-the-clock attention to the Legislature.
“We don’t invest a lot (on lobbying) but it’s important for us,” Morris said.
“We just find that the value to us is just to make sure that we’re not missing something in the process,” he said.
For example, Morris said a lobbyist kept them informed about discussions on teacher evaluation, which led the cooperative to a “best-practice, research-driven” consultant to inform their members on the topic.
Because most local governments pay dues to larger organizations — all 87 counties in the state belong to the Association of Minnesota Counties, for example — just about everyone pays to lobby.
That goes as far down as townships, many of which belong to the Minnesota Association of Townships. Nicollet County’s Courtland Township, for example, paid $479 to the group last year, but only 7 percent (or $34) went to lobbying.