Top 10 lobbying victories of 2011

K Street played defense in 2011 as conflict between the new Republican House and the Obama administration brought gridlock to Washington.

With Republicans and the White House engaged in protracted fights over the budget, federal spending and the debt ceiling, lobbyists often found themselves re-litigating old battles. 

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Retailers worked to protect planned reductions in debit card swipe fees passed in 2010. Business groups put their muscle behind three long-wanted trade deals negotiated during the George W. Bush administration. And environmentalists put President Obama under enormous pressure to delay construction of a transnational oil and gas pipeline that first sought U.S. permits in 2008.

Here’s a look back at the 10 biggest lobbying victories of the year, and the groups and companies that came out on top.

1. National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association, Wal-Mart

This year brought a repeat of one of last year’s most vicious lobbying battles — and like last year, retailers triumphed over Wall Street. 

Over the summer, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) offered an amendment to delay a Federal Reserve regulation that would limit the swipe fees that banks charge retailers for debit-card transactions. The limits were put in motion last year when Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) added a provision to the Wall Street reform bill going after the fees — a popular target of the National Retail Federation, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and big-box retailers like Wal-Mart.

Tester’s amendment went down to defeat despite heavy lobbying by the banking community, and retailers notched another victory over the banks.

2. American Petroleum Institute (API), Business Roundtable, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Business groups fought hard to stop tighter smog standards from the EPA, warning the rules would be disastrous for the economy. 

Trade associations like API, the Roundtable and the Chamber were vocal in their criticism of the standards. Their lobbyists met with White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and other senior administration officials to lobby against the rule.

The decision by Obama in early September to drop the ozone regulation shocked environmentalists and won him rare plaudits from the business community.

3. Caterpillar, National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea were finally approved in 2011, after more than five years of haggling.  

It took a coordinated lobbying push by multinational companies like Caterpillar and trade groups like the NFTC and the Chamber to court a new House GOP freshman class and prod the White House into supporting all three deals.

They overcame strident opposition from labor unions to secure congressional approval for the trade agreements, which were first negotiated in 2006 and 2007.

4. National Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Earth, 350.org

A potent combination of environmentalist pressure, grassroots activism and insider lobbying helped stall the construction of the Keystone Pipeline.

The pipeline, which is expected to carry oil sands and run from Alberta, Canada, down through the Midwest to Gulf Coast refineries, appeared to be heading toward approval. But massive protests at the White House and explicit suggestions by environmentalists that building the pipeline could hinder Obama’s 2012 election chances drew national attention to the issue.

Obama’s State Department ended up postponing the decision on whether to build the pipeline until after the election, in 2013.



5. Taxpayers for Common Sense, Pratt & Whitney

Budget watchdog groups and a major defense contractor had much to celebrate when the F-35 fighter jet’s alternate engine failed to secure government funding this year.

It’s always difficult to convince lawmakers not to support defense programs, which often bring jobs to their congressional districts. But the new climate of fiscal austerity helped to kill off the jet engine built by GE and Rolls-Royce.

Groups like Taxpayers for Common Sense have long battled against the engine, which has been plagued for years by cost overruns. Its demise also leaves the engine built by Pratt & Whitney with no competition.

6. Sprint, Public Knowledge, Free Press

The merger of AT&T and T-Mobile was a foregone conclusion earlier this year — or so went the conventional wisdom in Washington.

But telecom rival Sprint and watchdogs like Public Knowledge and Free Press made the case relentlessly to policymakers that the deal was bad for business and harmful to consumers. Their lobbying push helped put AT&T back on its heels, despite its legendary K Street prowess.

Following a series of setbacks capped by a court decision this week, AT&T has to decide within the next month whether to revise the proposed merger, or perhaps abandon it altogether. 

7. DeVry Inc., Kaplan Inc.,ITT Educational Services Inc.

For-profit colleges mustered an impressive lobbying campaign to help delay and alter a tough new regulation on their industry.

The Education Department proposed a rule that for-profit schools would have to show that their students were finding “gainful employment” to pay back government loans or federal aid would be cut off to the schools. Lobbyists and executives from DeVry, Kaplan, ITT and others, including Don Graham of the Washington Post Co., swarmed meetings with administration officials to push back.

The final rule differed significantly from the original proposal. The federal funding cut-off was delayed until 2015, not 2012, and schools would have to fail several tests repeatedly for three out of four years before losing their aid.

8. American Petroleum Institute (API), ExxonMobil, Shell

Tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, worth billions of dollars, survived another year despite being in the bull’s-eye of congressional Democrats and Obama.

2011 was marked by strong profits for oil and gas companies. Labeled a juicy political target, Obama and the supercommittee took aim at the industry incentives to help reduce the deficit.

But despite the pressure, API and others kept lawmakers away from the tax breaks.

9. Americans for Tax Reform

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Republican lawmakers’ steadfast refusal to raise taxes on anyone in 2011 has been credited to one man and one group: Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform.

During the supercommittee’s negotiations to raise the debt ceiling, Democrats often proposed to raise taxes on the wealthy. But GOP leaders rebuffed those proposals time and time again.

 Now in place for decades, Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes — signed by almost every Republican lawmaker — was a big reason why Republicans held the line under intense pressure from Democrats.

10. Financial Services Roundtable, New York Life Insurance Co., Charles Schwab & Co.

The Labor Department’s retreat from a regulation to broaden the definition of “fiduciary” status to more financial advisers did not garner much attention, but was heavily lobbied against in 2011.

The Financial Services Roundtable organized fly-in visits of financial executives to talk about the proposal, while power players such as New York Life Insurance and Charles Schwab staffed up on K Street to combat it. Brokers were worried the rule would force them to charge annual fees, not one-time commissions. Labor officials decided to re-draft the rule next year after they came under the lobbying onslaught.

— John T. Bennett, Rachel Leven, Ben Geman, Andrew Restuccia and Brendan Sasso contributed to this report.