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St. Paul spent more on lobbying than any other MN city last year

St. Paul spent almost $170,000 more on lobbying than Minneapolis last year.
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Minnesota's local governments spent more than $9 million on lobbying in 2016, as a way to represent their interests in discussions at the state level.

The figures were revealed in the latest annual report by the Minnesota Auditor, which lays out how much taxpayers' money is being used to represent city interests at the state legislature.

Topping the list was the City of St. Paul, which spent $445,000 on four staff members and three contract lobbyists.

All told, local governments spent a total of $9,110,139 on lobbying activities in 2016. This was an increase of $183,353 over the amount spent in 2015, about a 2 percent jump.

Here's a look at the biggest governmental spenders in the state.

The Pioneer Press reports lobbying interests in Minnesota, representing businesses, unions, governments and other groups, spent almost $67 million in 2016.

You can find a full list of lobbyists registered in Minnesota here.

What do lobbyists do?

Lobbyists are professionals hired to represent a client's interests to an elected official. They're used by all kinds of groups across the country, from local governments, to businesses, to unions and nonprofits.

In Minnesota, a lobbyist is defined as someone who is paid more than $3,000 (from all sources in a year) for the purpose of "attempting to influence legislative or administrative action" either by speaking directly to elected or local officials or urging others to contact them.

Similarly, any company, local government or organization that spends more than $250 to hire or pay someone for the same purpose is considered to be involved in lobbying activities.

So if I own a company that provides internet service to Minnesotans, and I want lawmakers to change regulations that affect my business, I could pay a lobbyist directly to go talk to relevant lawmakers. Or, I could send money to an association that will find and pay lobbyists on behalf of me and my industry.

And are they necessary?

The question of whether they are necessary depends on who you talk to.

The Minnesota Legislature website points out that with lawmakers having to pass judgement on hundreds of topics each year, it's "nearly impossible to keep abreast of all the complex issues."

This is where lobbyists can fill them in with (hopefully) reliable information, though it's up to the legislator to make sure he/she explores all sides of an issue.

But the interests lobbyists represent sometimes aren't things everyone will agree with.

Among those complaining following the release of the state auditor's report on Wednesday was government transparency activist Rich Neumeister, who highlighted the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid in dues to local government associations the League of Minnesota Cities and Association of Minnesota Counties.

These groups, he argues, have consistently opposed initiatives that would grant greater transparency in Minnesota local and state government.

Here's a list of the biggest spenders among local government associations in Minnesota last year.

At a national level, there are myriad complaints about the influence of lobbying companies, who not only represent their clients' interests but also get involved in fundraising for members of Congress, increasing their influence with that lawmaker in the process, according to Represent US.

The New York Times reports lobbyists get involved in writing laws as well. A bill drafted for the U.S. House in 2013 softening regulations on the banking industry featured 70 out of 85 lines written by lobbyists working on behalf of the financial company CitiGroup.

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