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Lobbyist PACs hurting for cash following election

Most had more money going into previous cycles

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The 2012 election, the most expensive on record, left the political action committees of many top lobbying firms hurting for cash, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission records indicates.

The PAC sponsored by Patton Boggs, for example, the nation's biggest lobbying firm, ended the 2012 presidential election cycle with 20 percent less cash than it did after the 2008 presidential election cycle — nearly $146,000, versus $183,000 records show. It also ended the 2010 midterm election cycle with slightly more available cash. Patton Boggs has no comment on its PAC activity, said Kevin O'Neill, deputy chairman of the firm's public policy department.

The firm's dozens of recent clients include AT&T, Citigroup, Delta Airlines, Facebook, FedEx, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, National Association of Broadcasters, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Visa and Wal-Mart, according to filings with the U.S. Senate.

Meanwhile, the PACs of Van Scoyoc Associates, Williams and Jensen and Cassidy & Associates also each enter the 2014 election cycle with less cash on hand than they did at the same point two and four years ago, the analysis shows.

Holland & Knight, K&L Gates, Alston & Bird and Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld enter the midterm election season off their cash-on-hand mark from either two or four years ago, but not both. Although K&L Gates' PAC is in slightly better financial shape now than at the end of the 2010 cycle, its current reserve of about $138,000 is down more than 23 percent from the more than $180,000 it boasted following the 2008 cycle.

Unlike freewheeling super PACs that may accept unlimited donations, traditional PACs may only raise up to $5,000 from an individual per year, making replenishment of campaign war chests more labor intensive. The payoff? A traditional PAC is allowed to give money directly to a politician's campaign, something super PACs are banned from doing.

Heavy PAC spending contributes to lower reserves at the end of an election cycle, obviously, and several lobbying firm PACs spent well into the six-figure range during the 2012 cycle. They'll almost exclusively rely on firm employees to refill their accounts. And spending for lobbying firm PACs often begins at the front end of election cycles so the PACs may make an impression on lawmakers early in a congressional session.

Despite the expensive election, the PACs of four top 20 lobbying firms are heading into the 2014 cycle with more money than at the same point two or four years ago.

Ernst & Young is tops among them. The accounting firm, which earned more than $13.5 million in 2012 from its lobbying services, finds its PAC flush with more than $868,000 cash on hand far more than the roughly $276,000 it carried into the 2010 election cycle, federal records show. The firm had no comment on its PAC activities, spokesman John La Place said.

Prominent Ernst & Young lobbying clients include Aetna, Airlines for America, Barclays, Boeing, Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Pfizer, the Renewable Fuels Association and Zurich Financial Services, Senate records show. 

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck realized the greatest increase in its PAC cash balance, jumping 116 percent — from about $64,500 to more than $139,000 — from the start of the 2010 cycle to the start of the 2014 cycle.

With more than $112,000 heading into the 2014 cycle, Hogan Lovells' PAC is also on better footing than it was two or four years ago. BGR Group's cash poor PAC posted only about $2,600 in reserve to end last year, but that's more than it had at the end of the previous two cycles.  

Among the nation's top 20 firms last year in terms of lobbying revenue, as ranked by the Center for Responsive Politics, eight do not sponsor federal PACs. They are Ogilvy Government Relations; Podesta Group; Peck, Madigan & Jones; Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti; Capitol Counsel; McBee Strategies; Cornerstone Government Affairs and Fierce Isakowitz & Blalock.