The Best Congress Lobbying Can Buy

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K Street’s federal lobbying reports were due last week, and OpenSecrets is back with some initial numbers.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent the most on lobbying federal lawmakers, increasing its spending by 58% from 2008 as it stepped up efforts to defeat climate change and health care legislation. $79.2 million—more than half of its $144.5 million in 2009 lobbying expenditures—were made in the final three months of the year.

The health care debate also intensified lobbying efforts. PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry trade group, spent $26 million and Pfizer, Amgen, and Eli Lilly spent a combined $45 million. That’s a lot of money, and so far it seems to have worked. The reform bill has stalled with the election of senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Senator Chris Dodd recently proposed taking a break from the issue. While insurance and pharmacutical companies increased their lobbying bucks, AARP dropped its spending by nearly 25% and SEIU increased its lobbying dollars only modestly, by 8% (about $200,000).

Energy companies also poured money into lobbying as Congress dithered over cap-and-trade legislation. From 2008 to 2009, Chevron upped spending by 60%, ConocoPhillips by 114%, and BP by 53%.

The OpenSecrets report doesn’t delve into lobbying numbers from the big banks, but The Hill points out that during the financial crisis in 2009, eight of the nation’s largest banks spent nearly $26 million lobbying lawmakers. On the whole, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup decreased or maintained their lobbying sums from 2008 to 2009. Bank of America, however, began “pouring in more money” during the fourth quarter, reports McClatchy. Lobbying sums from the financial services sector are only expected to grow as industry groups intensify their opposition to impending  financial regulation.

It should come as no surprise, then, that elite lobbying firms are reporting big gains this year, according to Roll Call. K Street’s top 25 firms posted more than 10 percent growth, with some firms earning as much as 60 percent more in 2009 compared to 2008

The Podesta Group, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Holland & Knight and Alston & Bird all reported more than 40 percent increases in billings. K&L Gates, Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti and McBee Strategic Consulting posted gains of more than 20 percent in 2009.

With several big-ticket legislative items moving through Congress, in particular financial services regulatory reform, lobbyists said they expect more of the same this year.

With that prediction, and with news of the Supreme Court’s decision to lift restrictions on campaign contributions from corporations and unions, the entanglement between money and politics only grows more complex. On Saturday, President Obama called the decision a “huge victory to the special interests and lobbyists.”

A huge victory. Given the healthcare, climate, and fiscal reform they’ve managed to stall in 2009, it looks like those lobbyists and special interests have been racking up victories all year long.


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