A new online service will help you track who is spending how much to influence state lawmakers. The data is provided by the state Office of Political Practices, which made it available online at http://www.lobbysearch.mt.gov this month. “We’re working toward providing Internet access to all the information reported for lobbying and political campaigning,” Commissioner of Political Practices Dennis Unsworth said. “It’s a more efficient way to do business and simplifies access to the information.” The commissioner’s office, in a small house a block north of the Capitol, has always had paper records of lobbying reports and campaign-finance information for statewide candidates. But it wasn’t until earlier this year did any of that information become available online. The office has created a searchable database for lobbyists and their employers, or “principals,” who must register with the state. You can go online and see the financial reports they file. For example, a search for lobbyist Steve Yeakel, a former state budget director and business consultant, reveals that he is lobbying the Legislature this year on behalf of the Montana Funeral Directors Association, Montana Council for Maternal and Child Health, Montana Independent Bankers and Montana Childcare Resource and Referral Network. The data shows that, among principals, some of the top spenders include PPL Montana, at more than $145,000, and the Montana Quality Education Coalition, which has spent just over $103,000 in its fight for more money for public schools. Interest groups and state agencies who expect to spend at least $2,300 during the session must file an initial report. If they spend at least $5,000 a month, they must file monthly reports 15 days after the end of the month. Unsworth said as of Monday, about half the March reports which were due April 15 were in the system, and that the remainder would be in soon. Initial financial reports and monthly reports covering January and February are available. Montana continues to rely on the lobbies to file accurate spending reports, which aren’t audited. Some lobbies file more detailed reports than others. “Unless there is a complaint, we don’t dig into the reports,” Unsworth said. “We go through and make sure they are complete, but there is nothing that approaches an audit at this stage.” The 2007 Legislature denied a request by Unsworth’s office to fund a pilot program to audit some lobby reports.