Lobbyist Compensation: A Primer

Annual disclosures yield no definitive answers

Each year, lobbyists in Virginia are required to disclose how much they were paid. But they have such wide latitude in how they calculate compensation that it becomes impossible for the public to compare spending by companies and groups that seek to influence legislation and executive actions.

How compensation is reported can vary

Lobbyists can disclose all or a portion of what they are paid. Consider this hypothetical situation: A company pays a lobbying firm a total of $75,000 -- $36,000 in monthly retainers and $39,000 for services billed. The lobbying firm could report compensation in one of three ways:

How a day can be reduced to minutes

Some lobbyists disclose a prorated amount of their compensation to include only time spent talking with a legislative or executive official about a specific action -- the literal legal definition of lobbying. This method can transform a 10-hour day at the state Capitol into, say, 12 minutes of reportable "lobbying."

Three ways to rank lobbyist pay

How companies rank in 2019-20 lobbyist compensation can vary depending on which metric is used. Those with a higher number of lobbyists and much lower average compensation rank are more likely to have calculated pay using a prorated system. Those with a relatively low number of lobbyists and relatively high average compensation rank are more likely to have reported a more full share of lobbyists' total pay.

Note: The 10 companies and groups above reported the highest combined lobbyist compensation for the year ending April 30.

Source: Lobbyist disclosure statements covering activity from May 1, 2019 through April 30, 2020 filed with the Virginia Ethics Council.

Aug. 28, 2020