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Report: Health insurer, utility were top-spending lobbyists

March 8, 2018

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s biggest health insurer and its largest utility company were the top-spending lobbyists in 2017, coughing up millions of dollars during former Gov. Chris Christie’s final year in office, according to a state report released Thursday.

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield spent $2.5 million and Public Service Enterprise Group, or PSEG, spent $2.4 million, New Jersey’s Election Law Enforcement Commission said in a report. Both are record highs for the companies in the state.

The spending sheds light on the behind-the-scenes jockeying as both companies were trying to influence public policy.

“In a democratic society, policy-making often doesn’t come easy or quietly,” the commission’s executive director Jeff Brindle said in a statement. “And the most intense debates often lead to heavy lobbying activity.”

Christie clashed with Horizon last year over his unsuccessful efforts to use $300 million from the insurer on the opioid crisis. Horizon opposed Christie’s effort to tap into the insurer’s surplus, arguing that it would adversely affect its members.

Part of the insurer’s $2.5 million included a payment of $1.4 million to the Latino Consumer Alliance to fight off Christie’s proposal, according to the commission. The fight was a factor in the state government shutdown.

A message seeking comment from Horizon on the commission’s report was not immediately answered.

PSEG began an effort that’s still underway to get a $300 million ratepayer-financed bailout of its nuclear plants. The plants account for about 40 percent of the state’s electricity supply and emit no carbon pollution, but will become financially unstable in two years, according to PSEG President and CEO Ralph Izzo. That led PSEG to seek a financial rescue, which Christie said he’d back.

An Associated Press report showed Christie’s administration and PSEG’s lobbyists worked together to craft legislation that would keep financial data from the public. The firm says the data is proprietary and that state regulators would have access to it. The legislation is still pending.

PSEG spokesman Michael Jennings said the nuclear legislation led to much of the firm’s spending.

“It is clear legislators and the public understand the value nuclear power provides and support keeping the plants operating,” Jennings said.

The new report also shows that Kennett Square, Pennsylvania-based Exelon Generation, which co-owns the New Jersey nuclear plants, spent $193,590 in 2017, that’s up 61 percent.

Total spending by lobbyists for the year was nearly $91 million, up slightly from 2016′s total of $90 million.

Christie, a Republican, left office in January, succeeded by Democrat Phil Murphy.

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Read the report online .

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The story has been corrected to show that Horizon’s spending included the $1.4 million to Latino Consumer Alliance. It was not an additional expenditure.

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