The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and an affiliated group, the Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), spent $53.4 million lobbying the federal government last year, more than any lobbying entity has ever spent in a single year, according to recently filed disclosure reports.
The sum is the latest hefty lobbying figure to emerge from the business group, which in 2003 spent $34.6 million. In 2002 and 2001, its lobbying expenditures came in at $41.6 million and $20.6 million, respectively, according to PoliticalMoneyLine. Those totals do not include money spent on outside consultants.
The Chamber’s lavish spending solidifies its reputation as one of the strongest lobbying forces in Washington. It has been a major player on tort reform, transportation, free trade and taxes in the past year.
“Lobbying is our purpose for being. That’s what we’re here to do for the business community,” said Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs.
Josten outlined the Chamber’s principal areas of interest last year, which included the class-action reform bill, the ongoing highway reauthorization bill, pension reform and the corporate tax bill. Although only the corporate tax bill passed last year, the other issues were brought closer to passage, Josten said, noting that the group had helped gather the support of 62 senators for the class-action bill last year. The bill recently passed the Senate with the backing of 72 senators.
The corporate tax bill, which cut taxes for manufacturers and provided more favorable tax treatment to multinationals, was signed into law last fall after an intense lobbying effort from various business groups.
The chamber’s and ILR’s year-end lobbying reports were filed with the Senate Office of Public Records several days before yesterday’s deadline, making them some of the first to be released. As a result, it is still possible, though unlikely, that other lobbying entities could surpass the groups’ spending.
As of June 30, 2004, the Chamber and ILR had dished out $20 million more than the next largest group, the American Medical Association, according to midyear disclosure reports.
Other groups that have spent heavily on lobbying in recent years are AARP, which ponied up $21 million in 2003, the year the Medicare prescription-drug bill passed; General Electric, which topped $17 million that year; and the American Medical Association, which also spent $17 million.
The chamber used 50 lobbyists during the second half of last year, including five at ILR. Although figures on the number of outside lobbying firms the Chamber and ILR hired last year were not yet available, the two had at least nine outside firms on the payroll at midyear.
“The Chamber’s high level of activity lobbying Congress and the administration, I think, reflects how busy the Chamber has been and how many issues they have,” said Larry Noble, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. “You have a lot of opportunities, a lot of friends in Congress if you’re the Chamber now. The business community sees this as the time to push their agenda.”
The Chamber’s political operation, led by Bill Miller, put significant resources into electing pro-business candidates last November. Only one of its Senate candidates lost — beer magnate Pete Coors in Colorado — garnering Miller a raise and an enhanced role in the group’s lobbying efforts this year.