Lobbying activity declines among top special interests

Lackluster Congress, election season drive downturn

By

 Updated:

As election season spools up and an already lethargic Congress readies for recess, federal lobbying efforts among elite special interests are sputtering, too. 

About three-fifths of the nation’s top 100 lobbying entities spent less during this year’s second quarter than they did during the same period in 2013, according to a Center for Public Integrity of analysis of new congressional disclosure reports and Center for Responsive Politics data. Spending by several others remained stagnant.

Unlike last year at this time, members of Congress are more concerned about getting re-elected than passing legislation.

The second-quarter thriftiness reverses what amounted to a modest spending uptick earlier this year, at least among lobbying powerhouses. 

The American Medical Association ($3.9 million, down from $4.3 million during the second quarter of 2013), American Hospital Association ($4.4 million, down from $5 million) and General Electric ($2.8 million, down from $3.6 million) rank among the top decliners.

The defense industry generally deployed less legislative firepower, with contractors United Technologies, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and General Dynamics cutting lobbying spending.

Many large oil and energy production interests also spent less, including Southern Co., Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, Exelon Corp., Duke Energy and BP.

A surprise lobbying spender of 2013 — the upstart National Association for Gun Rights, which spent more than $3 million during last year’s second quarter and easily trumped the National Rifle Association in this regard — invested $1.24 million during this year’s second quarter.

Last year “was the biggest year on gun legislation in Congress in two decades, and NAGR was the main player in defeating every gun control measure anti-gun legislators tried to pass,” National Association for Gun Rights spokeswoman Danielle Thompson explained.  “We will continue to fight against any infringement against our Second Amendment rights and push for repeal of anti-gun laws that are already in the books.”

Everytown for Gun Safety Action, the Michael Bloomberg-led group formerly known as Mayors Against Illegal Guns, spent just $100,000 from April to June after spending $580,000 during the same time frame last year.

Even top lobbying spenders can largely thank midterm congressional campaigns, not policy battles, for their prolific output.   

That’s because the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($28.8 million during second-quarter 2014 compared to $19.1 million during second-quarter 2013) and the National Association of Realtors ($16.5 million versus $9.1 million) opt to disclose state- and grassroots-level lobbying, as well as issue and political advertising, alongside its federally focused efforts. Most lobbying entities don’t.   

Chamber spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes attributed second-quarter spending to a “significant voter education campaign … highlighting candidates’ positions on issues important to the business community with the goal of electing people who understand how jobs are created and are interested in governing.”

To date, the Chamber has spent nearly $15 million during the 2014 election cycle advocating for or against federal candidates. Its top beneficiaries so far include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.; Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga. and Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

Back on Capitol Hill, the Chamber continues to lobby heavily on “critical job creation issues being considered by Congress,” such as transportation, infrastructure, energy and trade matters, Holmes said.

The Realtors association has likewise this cycle spent about $1.5 million on direct candidate advocacy through its super PAC — Cochran, and Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Pete Sessions, R-Texas, are favored politicos — and counts that money toward its lobbying output. 

“Since it’s an election year, yes, our numbers are up over last year,” Realtors’ spokeswoman Jenny Werwa confirmed.

There are several exceptions to the second quarter’s lobbying slump.

Notable among them: the tech and telecom industries, which have wrestled Congress, the White House and federal agencies on a variety of issues ranging from corporate mergers to net neutrality to National Security Agency surveillance.  

Companies and trade groups reporting lobbying spending increases during 2014’s second quarter from 2013’s second quarter include Google ($5 million from $3.7 million), the National Association of Broadcasters ($4.7 million from $3.2 million), AT&T Inc. ($3.8 million from $3.7 million), Verizon Communications ($3.5 million from $3.3 million), CTIA-The Wireless Association ($2.2 million from $1.9 million), Facebook ($2.1 million from $1 million) and the U.S. Telecom Association ($1.35 million from $1.3 million).

Among communications companies spending less during this year’s second quarter, Comcast Corp. is most well-known.

Twitter spent $90,000 on lobbying during the second quarter — a pittance compared to other tech titans, but significant considering the social media company only began lobbying the federal government late last year and has been increasing expenditures ever since. Data security and privacy matters topped its agenda, according to its federal filing.

Spending by financial interests was up from April to June, as many continue to snipe at elements of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which this week marked its fourth anniversary.

The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association ($2.1 million from $1.3 million), JPMorgan Chase and Co. ($1.6 million from $1.3 million) and Wells Fargo ($1.6 million from $1.4 million) led the way, although the American Bankers Association and Financial Services Roundtable posted lobbying declines.

Meanwhile, top K Street lobbying firms, which make their money from clients of all sizes, not just the biggest of the big, reported reasonably good second-quarter income.