Lobbying dips overall, but the beat goes on for guns, drugs and agriculture

Third-quarter numbers show many big lobbies cut back compared to the previous year, but farm bill, gun and health care debates yield outliers

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Pharmaceutical behemoths, gun advocates and corporate agriculture interests are notable outliers among the nation’s biggest government lobbying forces, many of which have otherwise shrunk their policy influence armies this summer and autumn in Washington, D.C.

More than two-thirds of last year’s top 100 lobbying entities spent less on federal-level lobbying activity during this year’s third quarter than they did the year before, according to a Center for Public Integrity of analysis of new congressional disclosure reports and Center for Responsive Politics data.

Such developments are indicative of a lobbying industry in decline after more than a decade of unbridled growth. Reasons for the slide are numerous, from a gridlocked Congress that rarely passes marquee legislation, to corporate investment in other forms of political influence, such as advertising campaigns and donating to politically active nonprofit groups.

Prominent companies spending less in this year’s third quarter include the National Association of Realtors, General Electric, the American Hospital Association, Google, aerospace company Boeing, defense firm Lockheed Martin and telecom giant Verizon Communications.

FedEx Corp., Koch Industries, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Ford Motor Co., Visa Inc. and the American Petroleum Institute were also down.

But prompted in part by roiling debate over a national farm bill, the Grocery Manufacturers Association reported spending $7.47 million to influence the federal government — never before had it cracked the $2 million mark for a single quarter. A representative for the association could not be reached for comment.

Ahead of Obamacare implementation on Oct. 1, drug makers Amgen Inc. ($2.52 million) and GlaxoSmithKline ($1.27 million), increased their quarterly lobbying expenditures compared to the third quarter of 2012. So did other large lobbying forces with prominent health care interests, such as the American Chemistry Council ($4.75 million), American Medical Association ($4.27 million) and the Biotechnology Industry Organization ($2.02 million).

AT&T Inc., oil company Chevron Corp., Coca-Cola Co., defense contractor Raytheon Co., United Parcel Service, tech firm Hewlett-Packard and bank Wells Fargo also recorded spending increases compared to their performances during last year’s third quarter.

And prominent members of the gun lobby — both for and against firearm restrictions — also topped totals from 2012’s third quarter, although their spending levels were generally down from the previous quarter this year.

The upstart National Association for Gun Rights led the way, investing more than $1 million into a wide-ranging effort to block gun control bills and strengthen firearm owners’ legal protections. The group, which touts itself as supporting gun rights “without compromise” and never lobbied the federal government before this year, spent more than $3 million during the year’s second quarter.

It easily bested the better-known National Rifle Association and its subsidiaries, which together spent a healthy $820,000 during the third quarter.

“We know President Obama and Harry Reid are counting votes and will move to pass any gun control bill they can when they get the votes to do so,” National Association for Gun Rights spokeswoman Danielle Thompson said when asked why her group continued heavy lobbying efforts even as gun control legislation has, of late, faded as a congressional flashpoint. “There are still hundreds of negative laws and regulations on the books that restrict gun ownership, and it’s not our goal to just defend our rights from attack, but actively fight to fully restore them.”

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, led in part by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, spent $500,000 from July 1 through September, down slightly from its all-time quarterly high of $580,000 from April 1 through June.

A pro-immigration 501(c)(4) nonprofit group called the Advocacy Fund likewise spent big during the third quarter — almost $1.3 million — although that’s well off its lobbying expenditure peak of about $2.2 million during the year’s the second quarter. It had not lobbied heavily before this year.

Then there’s Twitter, which entered the federal lobbying arena for the first time this summer, spending a modest $40,000 during the third quarter.

But the social media site centered its fledging lobbying activity squarely on issues of acute national interest in the wake of a National Security Agency snooping scandal: electronic communications, government surveillance and privacy issues.

Twitter’s legislative targets included Senate Bill 418, the Do-Not-Track Online Act, and Senate Bill 1452, the Surveillance Transparency Act. It also lobbied in favor of patent reforms.

Facebook, for its part, ticked upward in the third quarter, spending $1.4 million on issues including “privacy, security, protecting children and online safety.” The social media company is also well off its peak of $2.45 million, a mark set during the year’s first quarter.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its subsidiary organizations again led all lobbying entities, spending more than $16 million on lobbying, its filing show. That’s more than the $14.4 million it spent during the third quarter of 2011, the most recent non-election year, but far below the more than $40 million spent during 2012’s third quarter, when the Chamber invested heavily in the nation’s presidential and congressional elections.

The Chamber typically records the nation’s largest lobbying expenditures because, unlike many corporations, trade associations and special interest group, it opts to disclose state- and grassroots-level lobbying, as well as some political organizing costs, alongside its federally focused efforts.

The Chamber honed in on “issues critical to the business community” during the third quarter, such as immigration reform and energy,” Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes said, adding that the organization’s attention is now trained on the financial health of a nation still reeling from a government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis.

“Moving forward,” she said, “we will continue to work with members of the House, Senate and administration to achieve longer run solutions to our debt, deficit, and entitlement challenges.”