Business interests spent more than $14 million lobbying at the state Capitol last year, nearly a fourth of the lobbyist cash that flowed through St. Paul in 2011, according to new campaign finance reports.

Those reports show that lobbyists spent almost $60 million defending their interests, with a public utility -- Xcel Energy -- at the top of the list, followed by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership.

Union groups and others who supported a failed quest to raise taxes on the wealthy last year were a distant second, clocking in at about $2.5 million.

The lobbyist spending reports are a regular reflection of who is working to wield influence with Minnesota decision makers and, on Monday, it was clear why the Minnesota Vikings stadium has been a top issue. The Vikings organization spent $840,000 on lobbying last year, a significant leap from the $500,000 the team spent in 2010. Much of that expense went to a media campaign, including TV ads, to support the team's still unsettled quest for a new stadium.

Unions and liberal groups vastly upped their lobbying expenses largely as a result of last year's government shutdown. The AFL-CIO alone spent $820,000. "We Want to Work for Minnesota," a union group that formed during the 2011 government shutdown over the summer, debuted among the big spenders with $300,000.

The newly powerful Alliance for a Better Minnesota, which played a big role supporting Democrats in the 2010 governor's race and which plans to do the same in this year's legislative races, spent only token amounts in 2009 and 2010 -- less than $50,000 in each year. But its spending in 2011 exploded to $670,000. The group, which has financial backing from unions and Alida Messenger, Gov. Mark Dayton's former wife, ran ads during the shutdown to pressure Republicans to raise taxes.

Total business spending on lobbying, which always leads the list of big spenders, increased only slightly. Xcel's $2.4 million led the pack. The Minnesota Chamber spent $2 million, followed by the Business Partnership's $980,000. Minneapolis Radiation Oncology Physicians spent $900,000 and the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses spent $748,000. The business spending on lobbying includes money spent by energy companies to influence decisions on rate setting and routing. Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, recent told constituents that merging that spending with other, more typical lobbying skews the number.

"It appears that they spend more on lobbying than they actually do," she said. She has proposed a measure to change the reporting requirements.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb