Top 10 lobbying victories of the year

Top 10 lobbying victories of the year
© Greg Nash

A legislatively lackluster year forced Washington’s influence industry to fight its battles on all fronts in 2014, as lobbyists grappled with congressional gridlock, and increasingly turned their attention to the executive branch.

Many of the year’s biggest lobbying wins came playing defense against bills, shaping regulations in the pipeline at agencies and bending the ear of a White House willing to act without Congress.

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The Obama administration took action on a number of key issues — including immigration, healthcare and clean energy — following pressure from industry and watchdog groups. 

Lobbyists, unions, trade associations and public interest groups of all stripes got into the action. Here are some of the most prominent victories they scored in 2014: 

IMMIGRATION EXECUTIVE ORDER

After repeated legislative failures, President Obama handed immigration activists a major victory last month, via a sweeping executive order that protects millions of immigrants in the country illegally from being deported.

The move reflects the most dramatic action on immigration action in years, sparking criticism from conservative lawmakers who called the move blatant executive overreach.  

Pro-immigration groups, meanwhile, argued that Obama should have gone further. Helping to lead the push was the National Council of La Raza, United We Dream, America’s Voice and other groups that have long pushed for reforms to the immigration system.

SECOND EMPLOYER MANDATE DELAY

In February, the Obama administration announced a second delay in the deadline for mid-size businesses to provide health insurance to their employees, while also easing some of the ObamaCare rules for larger companies.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the International Franchise Association, Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Retail Federation were among the business groups that lobbied heavily for the changes to the healthcare law.

Employers with 50 to 99 employees will now have until 2016 to provide their employees with health coverage. Businesses that employ more than 100 people still have to comply with the regulations by 2015, but will only have to insure 70 percent of their workforce by that time, instead of the 95 percent that was originally required.

Companies face up to $2,000 per employee not offered coverage after those deadlines. 

US EXPORT-IMPORT BANK RENEWAL

Support from Boeing, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce helped the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) overcome perhaps its toughest opposition in its 80-year history.

Combating conservative groups and Delta Air Lines — which railed against Ex-Im, calling it a fund for corporate welfare — proponents were even able to overcome strong reservations from House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas).

Ultimately, Congress reauthorized Ex-Im’s charter through June 2015 within a larger stopgap government funding bill, setting up an even bigger battle over a multi-year extension next year.

POWER PLANT REGULATIONS

The green lobby was able to push the Environmental Protection Agency to overcome industry pressure and come down strong on emissions from coal-fired power plants. 

Proposed rules released early this year would require existing plants to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, compared to levels from 2005.

In fact, the National Resources Defense Council was seen as having such influence on the rule that Republican members of Congress accused it of colluding with the agency, though many other environmental groups were also behind the effort.

The battle could move from K Street to First Street, however — the Supreme Court is seen as likely to weigh in on the regulations.

CORPORATE POLITICAL DISCLOSURE 

Late last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) removed an item that would require companies to disclose its political donations to shareholders from its regulatory agenda.

Koch Industries, the Chamber, the Construction Industry Round Table and other business groups lobbied the agency to abandon the rules, overpowering citizen watchdog groups, academics, investors and others who pressed the SEC to take up the issue.

Republicans in Congress warned SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White that pursuing the rules could be a partisan move for the independent agency. 

Those pressures held firm in 2014, as an aggressive campaign from reformers to convince the agency to revisit the proposal fell short. The SEC issued its latest rule-making agenda last month. The controversial rule was not included. 

GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD 

The Grocery Manufacturers Association waged a counter-offensive to the growing push for labels on foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) — and has seen success on both the state and federal levels.

The group, with members that include Coca-Cola, Unilever, Starbucks and Monsanto, says that the labels could create an erroneous fear about GMOs. Pro-labeling groups, such as the Center for Food Safety, charge that not enough is known about them and say consumers have a right to know what’s in them.

As part of the fight, members of Congress introduced an industry-backed bill creating a voluntary labeling system for GMO labeling. The bill was the subject Wednesday of a House hearing, at which lawmakers and a top Food and Drug Administration official defended the safety of GMO foods.

The industry effort faces some challenges and was dealt a significant setback in Vermont, where the state legislature passed a labeling law earlier this year. Industry groups are battling the law, but if a federal court upholds it, more states could follow suit.

VEHICLE BACKUP CAMERA RULE

Although Congress directed the Department of Transportation to improve rear visibility in cars by 2011, it took years of relentless pressure from public safety and consumer groups, as well as a lawsuit filed by Public Citizen, to move the agency to action.

On the very day a federal court was poised to hear arguments in the case, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced rules to help prevent backover accidents that kill an estimated 200 people and injure another 15,000 individuals each year.

Public Citizen filed the suit on behalf of Consumers Union of the United States, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and Kids and Cars Inc., as well as two parents whose children were either hurt or killed after they accidently backed into them.

By May 2018, all new vehicles under 10,000 pounds must have backup cameras as standard features.

FLOOD INSURANCE REFORM 

Congress rolled back changes to the nation’s flood insurance program enacted only two years ago, in a victory for the National Association of Realtors, the Independent Community Bankers of America, the National Association of Counties and the National Association of Home Builders, among others.

Spurred by a spike in insurance premiums, lobbyists fought against fierce opposition from groups that said the subsidized rates from the National Flood Insurance Program could plunge the flood program that took a balance-sheet beating following Hurricane Katrina further into debt.

Lobbysists were able to permanently roll back flood insurance premium increases that Congress enacted to help keep the program afloat.

OBAMACARE REINSURANCE FEE

Department of Health and Human Services issued regulations in March carving out an exception from the “reinsurance fees” required under ObamaCare for some health plans.

Many unions use the “self-insured, self-administered” group plans exempted from the fees, which were designed to offset the cost of more expensive patients brought into the healthcare system.

The AFL-CIO and other unions had expressed disappointment with several aspects of healthcare reform and even partnered with the Business Roundtable and other industry groups to remove the reinsurance fees all together, although the legislation didn’t move in Congress

SUNSCREEN REGULATIONS

The Public Access to SunScreens (PASS) Coalition formed last year with the help of K Street firm Holland & Knight in an effort to change how federal regulators approve new sunscreen ingredients and combat skin cancer.

The group, made up of public health organizations, dermatologists, sunscreen ingredient companies and individuals, helped write and push a bill through Congress that the president ultimately signed into law this month.

The last over-the-counter sunscreen ingredient was approved in the 1990s, the coalition says, and many new ones have been in a backlog at the agency.

The law gives the Food and Drug Administration a timeline to study and approve several active ingredients for sunscreen.