BOSTON (AP) — There are a few things Beacon Hill lawmakers can depend on: endless public hearings, late-night budget debates and a steady stream of campaign dollars from registered lobbyists hoping to catch their ear.
An Associated Press review of lobbyist donations reveals just how reliable that flow of money has been, with lobbyists having spent nearly $10 million in direct contributions to lawmakers and politicians over the past nine years.
From 2005 through 2013, the total donations from lobbyists to political figures fluctuated from a low of $943,440 in 2005 to a high of nearly $1.4 million in 2010. The state caps annual donations from lobbyists at $200 per candidate. During that same period, the average donation from a lobbyist was $149.
For lawmakers, the regular donations can translate into a predictable source of campaign income — even in years when they aren't facing a campaign.
The money can be used for a wide range of activities under the state's liberal campaign finance laws that allow donations to be spent "for the enhancement of the political future of the candidate."
Not surprisingly, some of the largest chunks of lobbying donations went to the most powerful politicians in the Massachusetts Statehouse.
One of the top beneficiaries is House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who holds one of the three most powerful posts on Beacon Hill.
As speaker, DeLeo appoints the heads of legislative committees, meets regularly with state leaders and has a large say over which bills are approved by House and which aren't.
DeLeo took in about $47,775 in direct donations from hundreds of lobbyists last year, an average of about $165 per donation. DeLeo has said donations from lobbyists have no influence on how he votes or what bills he supports.
His campaign also noted that the money from lobbyists amounted to just 10 percent of the $451,577 in total donations the Winthrop Democrat received in 2013, which was not an election year for state lawmakers.
DeLeo reported spending about $597,570 last year, including on meals with lawmakers, catering, gasoline, tolls, gift expenses, office supplies, postage, consulting and other campaign activities. His single biggest expense was $300,000 in legal fees as investigators probed the state Probation Department.
Others who took in thousands from lobbyists in 2013 include powerful House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, ($33,649); Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth ($23,400); and Murray's expected successor, Majority Leader Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst ($29,250).
Not all lawmakers benefited from the flow of lobbyist money, with some reporting no donations.
Critics of Massachusetts' campaign finance laws have said they allow campaign contributions to be spent on such a broad array of activities that the donations amount to a supplemental income for lawmakers, particularly in election cycles when they face no opposition.
In 2009, the Legislature passed, and Gov. Deval Patrick signed, an overhaul of the state's ethics laws following the resignation of former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, later convicted on public corruption charges.
Under the new law, the definition of what constituted a lobbyist expanded.
Before the new law, an individual was deemed not to be a lobbyist if he or she spent less than 50 hours lobbying, or received less than $5,000 in lobbying fees, during each six-month reporting period.
The new law tightened that to 25 hours, or $2,500.
That new definition was reflected in the reports filed by lobbyists with the state.
From 2009 to 2010, the number of registered lobbyists jumped from 466 to 802 and the donations from lobbyists also jumped from $1 million to $1.4 million.
What remained steadiest, however, was the average of all the donations. Over the entire nine-year period, according to the AP review, the lowest average donation was $146 in 2005 and the highest was $153 in 2013.
Direct donations to lawmakers make up only a small slice of the total lobbying pie in Massachusetts.
Another AP review found that between 2007 and 2013, the health care industry alone spent more than $103 million lobbying Beacon Hill.