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Toyota forms new campaign money vehicle

Automaker's political action committee to augment legion of government lobbyists

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Toyota's North American subsidiary has formed a political action committee, a new Federal Election Commission filing indicates, meaning the Japanese automaker is adding another influence vehicle to its already sizable government outreach operation.

The PAC, which may raise up to $5,000 per year from eligible company employees, is officially named the Toyota Motor North America Inc. Political Action Committee, although it will informally go by Toyota/Lexus PAC.

"Toyota is establishing the Toyota/Lexus PAC which will allow employees, acting together, to support candidates who share the company's interests, values and goals," Toyota spokesman Ed Lewis said in a statement to the Center for Public Integrity.

Toyota, the world's largest automaker in terms of sales volume, already employs a sizable team of government lobbyists.

In recent years, it's spent between $3 million and $6 million annually on federally reportable lobbying efforts, including $3.35 million during 2012, U.S. Senate disclosures indicate.

That's consistently more federal lobbying than any other foreign automaker, including Honda and Nissan, although generally less than domestic car companies General Motors and Ford.

Toyota regularly lobbies the government on a variety of issues affecting the auto industry, although it faced its most significant government relations challenge in recent years during 2010, when Congress conducted dramatic hearings on Toyota vehicle safety stemming from consumer reports of unintended acceleration. The company late last year began settling a series of wrongful death lawsuits.

In all, 36 registered federal lobbyists worked on behalf of Toyota last year, most of whom have previously worked for the government in some capacity, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Among the outside lobbying firms with which Toyota contracted in 2012: BGR Group, Brown Rudnick, Capitol Hill Consulting Group, First Group, Glover Park Group, Greenberg Traurig and Hogan Lovells.

As for Toyota's new PAC, Tracey Doi, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.'s group vice president and chief financial officer, will serve as its treasurer, according to federal filings.

A regional division of Toyota — Gulf States Toyota — has for more than a decade maintained a separate PAC, federal records show.

While foreign companies aren't themselves allowed to form federal PACs, their U.S.-based subsidiary companies are, by law, allowed to do so. Only U.S. citizens and foreign nationals with permanent resident status may donate to the PAC, per federal law.

FEC rules state that a PAC may donate up to $5,000 to a federal political candidate per election and up to $15,000 per year to a federal political committee, such as the Democratic National Committee or Republican National Committee.

GM, Ford and several automotive industry trade groups, such as the National Auto Dealers Association and the Automotive Free International Trade PAC, have long operated federal political committees, federal records show.