America’s most powerful special interests are collectively regaining their appetite for old-school government lobbying.
About half of the nation’s top 100 lobbying entities reported spending as much or more on lobbying during this year’s first 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.
These new numbers reverse — at least temporarily — top lobbying forces’ shrinking investments in the kinds of conventional government influence efforts that they must by law report publicly. Some have increasingly funneled resources into influence activities just outside the scope of public disclosure.
Big-name trade associations, advocacy groups and corporations representing a range of industries, including chemicals, medicine, social media, shipping and beverages, led the way in early 2014, federal lobbying filings show. The increase was likely thanks, in part, to modest signs of congressional movement on legislation key to their interests after what’s been a year marked by gridlock.
Dow Chemical, for example, spent more than $5 million on lobbying this past quarter, or about $2 million more than during the year before.
In a statement, the company attributed the hefty spending to “increased collaboration in public policy, specifically in energy, trade and agriculture” as well as payment of annual dues to trade associations that represent its interests. The company also noted it spent more on lobbying thanks to its “successful 2013 earnings results.”
The American Chemistry Council’s lobbying spending jumped from $1.9 million during the first quarter of 2013 to nearly $3 million during the first quarter of 2014. Such action is was prompted in large part, spokeswoman Anne Kolton said, by the trade group’s push to pass legislation reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act, which regulates the production, use and disposal of industrial chemicals.
The Business Roundtable, which represents chief executive officers of major corporations, spent $4.23 million from January through March — a 53 percent increase from the same period in 2013.
That, spokeswoman Amanda DeBard said, is because of an aggressive effort by Business Roundtable Chairman Randall Stephenson to promote “top policy issues” that include “tax reform, immigration reform, expanded trade and fiscal stability.” She added: “Going forward, we will continue to advocate these issues.”
Other lobbying entities reporting notable lobbying spending increases during 2014’s first quarter from 2013’s first quarter include United Parcel Service ($3.04 million from $1.42 million), Coca-Cola Co. ($2.6 million from $1.36 million), the Grocery Manufacturers Association ($1.12 million from $670,000), the Open Society Policy Center ($2.8 million from $1.7 million).
UPS, which did not return requests for comment, indicated in its disclosures that it heavily lobbied on Russian trade issues, Obamacare benefits and U.S. postal reform, among other matters that could potentially affect its revenues.
(Update, 5:56 p.m. April 22: UPS spokeswoman Kara Gerhardt Ross wrote in an email that her company's lobbying expenditure increase was generated by "accounting changes in the way our lobbying activities are calculated," including dues to and compensation to lobbyists. "UPS expects that lobbying expenditures in 2014 to be relatively the same as in 2013," she added.)
Those reporting more modest increases include the American Medical Association, Koch Industries, National Association of Broadcasters, defense contractor United Technologies, FedEx Corp., health firm Amgen, Shell Oil, Prudential Financial, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Duke Energy, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, 3M Co. and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.
Overall, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce retained its regular perch as the biggest-spending lobbying entity in the United States, posting a $25.2 million figure for the year’s first quarter. That comes with a caveat: The Chamber, unlike many corporations, trade associations and special interest groups, opts to disclose state- and grassroots-level lobbying, as well as some political organizing costs, alongside its federally focused efforts.
In one case, at least — that of Facebook — a company’s lobbying expenditure spike doesn’t necessary mean it’s bombarding Washington, D.C., with more pressure than usual.
The social networking giant spent $2.78 million from January through March — easily its most expensive single quarter since the social media company began lobbying in 2009. In a statement, Facebook explained that the “vesting of restricted stock units” among its in-house federal lobbyists primarily accounted for its lobbying expenditure increase.
All the same, Facebook reported lobbying Congress, the White House and numerous federal agencies on a variety of topics, from digital privacy issues and online advertising to immigration reform and research and development tax credits.
Twitter, in contrast, continued its modest foray into formalized federal lobbying by spending $50,000 in the year’s first quarter on issues including patent litigation reform, digital privacy, government surveillance and data security.
Some prominent lobbying entities did curtail their spending in early 2014 compared to early 2013.
Those cutting the most, percentage-wise, include a number of energy interests and defense contractors, such as Northrop Grumman, General Electric, ExxonMobil, Chevron Corp., Edison Electric Institute, BP and American Electrical Power.
Ford Motor Co., drug maker Merck and Co., the AFL-CIO, machinery-maker Caterpillar Inc. and the American Farm Bureau also reported dips.
Although not among the biggest lobbying spenders on Capitol Hill, firearm-related groups — both advocates for and opponents of gun rights —continued to press lawmakers early this year with left-leaning lawmakers still pushing about gun control legislation despite little success last year.
Chief among pro-gun groups was the upstart National Association for Gun Rights. Although down from its quarterly peak of $1.9 million, it spent more than $1 million during the first quarter of 2014 and again outspent the better-known National Rifle Association.
“There’s a reason [gun control] legislation] hasn’t been going anywhere — we’ve been investing a lot of money to make sure of it,” said Dudley Brown, the executive vice president for the group. “We’re not going to stop. We’re not cutting deals, not compromising.”
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, comparatively, spent $310,000 during the first quarter of 2014, a slight increase from its spending during the first quarter of 2013.