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Lobbying firm PACs start 2013 slow

Majority of top government affairs shops aren't even sponsoring political committees

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Most lobbying firms are not in a hurry to pad politicians' political coffers early this election cycle, with only a few either raising or spending significant cash, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission records indicates.

And that's for the lobby shops that have PACs: More than half of the nation's top 40 firms, ranked by 2012 lobbying income, do not sponsor one at all, the analysis shows. While this doesn't represent a major shift from the lobbying world status quo, the trend stands in stark contrast to the actions of other industries' largest corporations, which generally sponsor PACs as a means to support and interact with politicians and candidates.

Among the PAC-less government affairs powerhouses are Podesta Group; Ogilvy Government Relations; Peck, Madigan & Jones; Prime Policy Group and Dutko Worldwide.

For top lobbying firms that do sponsor PACs, only four — Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld; K&L Gates; Ernst & Young and DLA Piper — have reported spending more than $100,000 during the year's first four months, mostly on donations to political candidates and committees. This figure could rise slightly in July, as eight of the nation's top 40 PACs have chosen to report their finances semiannually this year.

DLA Piper's PAC, on balance, is the nation's most active among firm-sponsored committees, raising about $198,500 and spending more than $196,300 between Jan. 1 and April 30.

That's still a pittance compared to what is typically the most active corporate PAC overall — Honeywell's PAC, which has raised almost $1.3 million and spent more than $951,000 for the same period. 

All the same, DLA Piper's PAC has spread the cash it is spending far and wide, federal records show.

On the left, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark N.J., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., are among its four-figure recipients. On the right, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., also rank among four-figure beneficiaries.

PACs are capped at donating $5,000 per election to a candidate committee and $15,000 per year to a national party committee.

The DLA Piper PAC also ended April with more than $143,800 in reserve — behind only Ernst & Young, the accounting giant that also runs a lobbying division.

DLA Piper's long lobbying client list includes broadcaster Al Jazeera America, Comcast, drugmaker Merck, the PGA Tour, defense contractor Raytheon and ZTE USA, the American subsidiary of a Chinese telecom company that has recently come under heavy government scrutiny

DLA Piper officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Ernst & Young's PAC, for its part, ended April with nearly $445,000 cash on hand after spending an industry-leading $423,000 during the first four months of the year — at least among those that have reported their figures. 

But it hasn't raised a cent during 2013, relying instead on its surplus cash to contribute four-figure amounts to the likes of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.; Michael Grimm, R-N.Y.; Steve Israel, D-N.Y. and James Clyburn, D-S.C.

Ernst & Young's dozens of lobbying clients this year include corporate titans such as insurer Aetna, Barclays, Boeing, Citigroup, ExxonMobil, General Electric, insurer MetLife, Microsoft, New York Life Insurance and drugmaker Pfizer, according to U.S. Senate filings. 

Spokesman John La Place said the company had no immediate comment about its PAC activity.

It may seem logical for companies so steeped in politics to operate an institutional PAC, and conversely, odd for a lobbying firm to forego doing so.

But since most large lobbying firms are not industry or issue specific — as opposed to other kinds of corporations, which usually are — it doesn't always make sense for firms to operate PACs, said Monte Ward, president of the American League of Lobbyists.  

"Firms are better served if their clients have PACs to enhance that direct connection between constituent and member," Ward said.

That doesn't mean that lobby shops without PACs aren't represented on the D.C. political fundraising scene, where lawmakers host an endless string of campaign events that provide professional influencers prime opportunities to connect with the candidates — for a price.

In some cases, quite the opposite is true.

Perhaps there is no better example of this than No. 3 lobbying firm Podesta Group, whose leader, Tony Podesta, ranks among the most active individual political donors in the nation and frequently hosts fundraisers for Democratic candidates.

Meanwhile, employees of PAC-free Ogilvy Government Relations made about $110,000 in reportable donations to federal-level candidates and committees during the 2012 election cycle, FEC records show. 

While Cornerstone Government Affairs also doesn't sponsor a PAC, its D.C. offices are among the capital's more popular venues for politicos looking to generate campaign cash, according to the Sunlight Foundation's event tracker Political Party Time.