Lobbyists in Massachusetts know the energy sector – with its complexities and government rules – can be a lucrative source of revenue. That’s certainly been true this year: Five of the nine biggest corporate spenders on outside lobbyists so far have come from that industry.
But Partners HealthCare was the top corporate spender, again, blowing through nearly $400,000 on outside lobbying contracts, according to new data for the first half of the year provided by the secretary of state’s office. Health care is similar to energy in that it’s a complicated industry that constantly intersects with government agencies. Partners’ representatives were particularly busy with a debate over a health care bill, but time ran out in the legislative session before the House and Senate could reach an agreement on that one.
Lawmakers did pass an energy bill, however, and state regulators oversaw two major contests for hydroelectric power and offshore-wind power contracts. It’s no wonder that energy was dominant, with two lobbying firms in particular picking up much of the work.
In all, five businesses significantly increased their lobbying spending this year to end up in the top 10.
Here’s a rundown of the newcomers to the list.
Mass Gaming and Entertainment: The developer behind the once-aborted Brockton casino is back. Mass Gaming, led by Chicago’s Rush Street Gaming and Brockton businessman George Carney, sees a new reason for rolling the dice – the struggles of a rival casino down the road in Taunton. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (not to be confused with Mass Gaming) rejected the nearly $700 million proposal for Carney’s Brockton Fairgrounds in 2016. But the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe continues to run into legal difficulties with its efforts to put Taunton land into trust for a casino. So Rush Street and Carney are pressing state regulators to reconsider their project, particularly as Twin River’s owners open another casino in Tiverton, R.I., to siphon away Massachusetts gamblers’ money. “There’s still no casino protecting the southern border,” said Mass Gaming spokesman Joe Baerlein. “That should be a wake-up call.” Year-to-date spending: $210,000; Lobbying firms: Rasky Partners, Keswick Consulting, Smith Costello & Crawford.
New England Aquarium: The yearslong debate over a waterfront master plan in Boston finally came to a head this spring, and the nonprofit New England Aquarium was at the center of the debate. The harbor plan is primarily being used right now as a way for developer Don Chiofaro to replace his Boston Harbor Garage with a new tower. The aquarium is just a sea lion’s jump away, so officials there made sure they had a seat at the table. The Conservation Law Foundation and neighbors in the Harbor Towers complex separately sued state Environmental Secretary Matt Beaton last month because of his approval of a plan that would allow a 900,000-square-foot tower at the garage site. An aquarium spokeswoman said the lobbying reflects the harbor planning process and the activity around the Harbor Garage redevelopment. Year-to-date spending: $210,000. Lobbying firm: ML Strategies.
Exelon Generation: The owner of the giant Mystic power plant in Everett has had a busy 2018. Exelon is preparing to open a new, primarily gas-fired plant adjacent to an old oil plant it owns in Medway. The Chicago-based company also lined up a deal to acquire the Distrigas LNG import terminal next door to its Everett complex. And it announced plans to retire its Mystic turbines – which are responsible for much of the electricity in Greater Boston – in 2022. But Exelon is looking for some support that could keep two main gas-fired units there running for longer. Federal regulators just denied one concept proposed by grid operator ISO New England, but directed ISO New England to come up with another solution. Year-to-date spending: $195,000. Lobbying firms: Foley & Lardner, Kearney Donovan & McGee.
Anbaric Development: Anbaric, a power-line developer, has been trying to benefit from a series of new, state-overseen energy procurements – particularly for offshore wind. The Wakefield firm argues it makes more sense to have separate bids for transmission and for generation, to open up the power line work for these offshore wind farms to competition. Doing so also increases the likelihood that rival wind farm projects can end up sharing the same line to shore. The new energy law gives state officials the authority to separate the bidding, but doesn’t mandate it. “We can compete now,” said Anbaric CEO Ed Krapels, “which is what we were hoping for.” Year-to-date spending: $165,000. Lobbying firms: ML Strategies, Northwind Strategies.
Deepwater Wind: Providence-based Deepwater was in the running for a first round of offshore wind contracts with three electric utilities, in a bidding process overseen by Massachusetts energy officials. Deepwater ended up losing those bids to Vineyard Wind. But it won in other ways. Deepwater secured a contract in Rhode Island, so it can get started on its own wind farm off Martha’s Vineyard. (It already has a small one off Block Island.) And the Legislature’s new energy bill allows state energy officials to double the amount of offshore wind energy that can be put out to bid. Deepwater CEO Jeffrey Grybowski said that energy issues continue to be a major focus for elected officials in Massachusetts, “so, as a renewable energy company, we feel it’s important that our perspective is part of the policy conversations.” Year-to-date spending: $150,000. Lobbying firms: ML Strategies, Smith Costello & Crawford.
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