New lobbyist rankings reflect GOP takeover of NC legislature

jfrank@newsobserver.comJuly 31, 2012 

ELECT07-NE-110210-RTW

North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer (center) is flanked by House Republican leader Paul "Skip" Stam (right) and Senate Republican leader Phil Berger as they celebrate the Republican control of the General Assembly on Tuesday November 2, 2010 at the Marriott in downtown Raleigh, N.C.

ROBERT WILLETT — ROBERT WILLETT-rwillett@newsobserver.com

The power shift at the statehouse is reflected in the latest rankings of the most influential lobbyists, as newcomers flourished and Republicans surged to the top, according to the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.

Tom Fetzer, the former state GOP chairman who helped Republicans take control of the legislature, landed at No. 2 in his first year working under the rotunda.

Only Dana Simpson, a former aide to a Republican House leader in the mid-1990s, bested Fetzer. At age 38, Simpson, who ranked No. 14 in 2010 when Democrats controlled the legislature, is the youngest lobbyist ever to claim the top spot. His clients included Progress Energy, WakeMed Health and Hospitals and The N.C. Museum of Art Foundation.

“There’s been a whole changing of the guard,” said lobbyist Fred Bone, a longtime statehouse watcher.

The unscientific rankings are compiled through surveys of lawmakers, lobbyists and capital correspondents. About two dozen of the lobbyists who made this year’s top 60 are ranked for the first time and most represent an assortment of special interests on contract.

The top 10 features mostly lobbyists with Republican ties, a reversal from two years ago when Democrats filled the upper echelon.

“The issues in the last two years allowed to be heard and debated have dramatically changed,” explained Connie Wilson, a former GOP lawmaker who became a lobbyist after leaving office in 2004. Wilson is ranked No. 7 after not making the top 55 in 2010. “There is an increased demand for Republican lobbyists,” she added.

The special interests that hired the top lobbyists in the 2011-2012 legislative session were predominantly health care and energy entities.

Nine of the 10 most influential lobbyists represented a client in the health care industry, either hospital systems or pharmaceutical companies.

Five of the top 10 represented Duke Energy, Progress Energy or ElectriCities, all of which held a stake in the Duke-Progress merger. The legislature had no role in approving the merger but the companies are subject to state laws and regulation.

“The rankings shed light on what is often an invisible process,” said Ran Coble, the center’s executive director.

Seven lobbyists ranked are former lawmakers, who are required by state law to not lobby their former colleagues for six months after leaving office.

“Former legislators know what it takes to make things happen,” Coble said. “They also have long-term relationships with their former colleagues that can open doors.”

The general partisan shift didn’t surprise Rep. Leo Daughtry, a Smithfield Republican. “That’s the way it works,” he said.

The News & Observer’s capital correspondents did not participate in the survey.

Frank: 919-829-4698

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