Top 10 lobbying triumphs: Some firms won big despite difficult year in 2009

For some lobbyists, 2009 was a year for huge wins.

K Street was supposed to be flat on its back. A deep recession meant corporate belt-tightening, and lobbyists were shamed month after month by an administration determined to limit their access. The White House stiff-armed lobbyists on the $787 billion stimulus package, then sought to block K Street from serving on influential federal advisory panels.

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But if some doors shut, others opened as Democrats pursued a sweeping legislative agenda. Healthcare, energy and financial regulation kept lobbyists working the halls.

The efforts promised new challenges, but some companies and trade groups emerged as clear winners.

PhRMA

As a member of Congress, Billy Tauzin (R-La.) was a master dealmaker. As president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Tauzin has successfully steered a group often at odds with Democrats through the healthcare debate.

The insurance industry has played the bogeyman in the debate, not drug-makers. That was largely due to an early deal PhRMA and drug companies struck with the White House. Details are still vague, but drug companies limited their financial exposure under healthcare reform to $80 billion over 10 years. Details could still change, but the industry’s apparent willingness to come to the table seems to have borne fruit. An amendment pushed by some Democrats to allow for the importation of cheaper drugs, something the industry has long opposed, was defeated this week in the Senate. Even some former supporters voted no.

Independent Community Bankers of America

There may be no industry more despised at the moment than banks. But as the Obama administration and congressional Democrats plowed forward on major new regulations of the financial industry, community banks were able to distinguish themselves apart from the taint of Wall Street.

In doing so, the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) racked up a series of major wins. ICBA helped secure a carve-out from examinations under the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) and an exemption from paying into a new industry fund to cover costs if the government takes over a failing financial firm.

“This year is probably the most successful year ICBA has had on the Hill in many, many, many years,” said Cam Fine, the group’s president. That has won him few friends in the big-bank lobby. “I would say they probably think I’m the son of Satan.”

Credit unions

The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) and National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU) both scored a slew of wins this year on financial reform. With thousands of grassroots members, the credit unions mobilized throughout the year to press lawmakers against new restrictions on the industry.

They also played a central role, alongside financial firms large and small, in stopping a proposal to give bankruptcy judges greater power to rewrite the terms of primary home mortgages. The House in March had passed the proposal, derided in the industry as “cramdown,” but it failed in the Senate. Then it failed again in the House, with members citing small banks and credit unions as presenting persuasive arguments against the legislation.

Edison Electric Institute

With a reputation for leaning Republican, EEI took a big step toward mending fences with Democrats when it hired Brian Wolff to lead its lobbying efforts. Wolff served as a political adviser to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and was the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

Change was afoot even before Wolff’s arrival. EEI had for years fought climate legislation, but recently the trade group was at work on a compromise among its members on the touchy topic. The formula they worked out for the distribution of emissions allowances under a cap-and-trade system has served as the basis for climate legislation thus far. EEI also convinced House Democrats to give away most of the allowances during an initial phase of the program, instead of auctioning them off, as the administration had proposed. Utilities said a full auction would have raised the costs of compliance too high.

Google

The long-running debate over who, if anyone, should be allowed to direct Internet traffic is clearly playing out in favor of one of the first net neutrality champions. Google and its public interest group partners have for three years lobbied Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to codify rules that would prohibit Internet service providers from giving preferential treatment to any traffic.

New FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski sees eye to eye with Google. And that bodes well for companies like Skype, Amazon and Apple, which all sell products and services over the Internet.

General Electric/Rolls-Royce

The Obama administration put a target on a number of defense programs, including an alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). That led to one of the fiercest fights in Washington, between Pratt & Whitney, maker of the main JSF engine that would stand to benefit from its competitor’s demise, and the GE-Rolls-Royce team that built the second engine.

The Senate left out funding for the GE-Rolls-Royce engine from both the defense authorization and appropriations bill. But with strong support in the House, the funding was restored, to the tune of $465 million.

AARP

Healthcare reform has split the AARP, with some seniors nervous about how the changes would affect coverage. But the powerful lobby has largely backed the effort and is on the verge of scoring a big win: getting the Medicare Part D doughnut-hole closed. The hole refers to a gap in coverage for prescription drugs that strains many seniors’ budgets.

AARP is also about to accomplish other priorities, such as limits to how much extra insurance companies can charge the elderly and the sick for insurance. (It had, however, sought tougher controls.) AARP recently urged quick passage of the Senate bill. It also supported the measure passed by the House.

Auto dealers

All parts of the auto industry took a drubbing over the past year. But automobile dealers have found ways to win in Congress. The “Cash for Clunkers” program was a boost for dealers, while the lobby also won an exemption from the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA).

Just this month, the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) and Committee to Restore Dealers Rights successfully pushed Congress to pass a new arbitration system over how carmakers decide to close dealerships. The dealers had a yearlong battle with General Motors and Chrysler, which received tens of billions of dollars in bailout money and planned to close more than 2,000 dealerships across the country in their restructuring.

Clean-tech

Climate legislation splits Congress, but supporters and critics often meet in the middle on clean-tech, a broad category that includes solar and wind power and the so-called “smart grid” technologies designed to cut energy use.

The stimulus provided $80 billion in clean-tech support. According to the vice president’s office, that represents the “largest single investment in clean energy in American history.” Winners include the American Wind Energy Association, the Solar Energy Industries Association and high-tech companies that design the components and software for an improved power grid.

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A $2.3 billion tax credit for clean energy manufacturing is so popular the administration wants another $5 billion.

Boeing

Boeing may not remember 2009 fondly, what with the delays to its Dreamliner commercial aircraft program. But the company had a good year on Capitol Hill. It succeeded in keeping production of the C-17 cargo aircraft going with a $2.5 billion appropriation. That’s enough for 10 more planes. Boeing also got more money for 18 F/A 18 E/F Super Hornets, nine more than the Pentagon requested.

The good news may eventually spill over to its commercial division. The Dreamliner finally took flight this week.

Jeffrey Young, Roxana Tiron and Kim Hart contributed to this article.