Nearly $67.5 million was spent to lobby the Minnesota Legislature, Public Utilities Commission, state agencies and other major metropolitan governments in 2020 — a significant decline from recent years.

Less money was devoted to influencing those decisionmakers than in any year since 2012, according to data released Thursday by the state Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.

"That is a very much a COVID issue," Campaign Finance Board Director Jeff Sigurdson said, adding that there was a drop-off in "pressure for any legislation that wasn't directly related to expenditures either to meet the pandemic, or those sort of operational issues. All the policy issues were put on hold while we focused on that."

Enbridge lobbying drops

Far less was spent last year to lobby the Public Utilities Commission. That spending fell as the PUC approved the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline — for a second time — in early 2020. For those invested in the controversial project, the focus shifted from the commission to the courts, where various groups have been fighting the pipeline.

Of the $67.5 million, slightly more than $5 million was used to influence the administrative actions of the utilities commission. The previous year $7.8 million was spent to influence that commission, down from a peak of $15 million in 2018.

That spending was largely driven by Enbridge Energy Partners, which put vastly more toward lobbying in recent years than any other group in Minnesota. In 2018 alone, it spent $11 million to lobby in the state. But in 2020, Enbridge spent less than $1.4 million, relegating them to the second-largest spender overall.

Top spenders in 2020

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce topped the pack, putting nearly $2.1 million toward lobbying. The chamber has spent similar sums annually for the past decade.

"The Chamber worked tirelessly for our members this year. We worked with legislators, administration officials and the governor's office," Laura Bordelon of the chamber said in a statement. She said they lobbied on unemployment, workers' compensation insurance and assistance to help businesses survive the pandemic.

Other organizations that topped the lobbyist spending charts were Xcel Energy, the Minnesota Business Partnership, the teachers union Education Minnesota and the League of Minnesota Cities. Each of those groups spent at least $750,000 to influence state decisionmakers and other major metropolitan governments, including the seven metro counties, cities with more than 50,000 residents, the Metropolitan Council and the airports commission.

While the overall investment in lobbying fell in 2020, a number of organizations increased their spending. The Mall of America saw one of the most dramatic jumps, from $15,000 to $535,000. And the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association spent about $692,500 in 2020, nearly six times as much as 2019.