Energy-drink makers bolt to K Street

Energy-drink makers are bolting to K Street amid scrutiny from federal regulators about possible health risks from their products.

The companies Red Bull and Monster Energy have each hired Washington lobby firms to represent them before regulators and lawmakers.

Red Bull recently hired Heather Podesta + Partners and Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz — both well-connected shops — while Monster Energy has signed up with the powerhouse firm Covington & Burling.

Monster paid Covington & Burling $100,000 for lobbying at the end of 2012. Red Bull paid Podesta’s firm $20,000 from November to December for its services, according to disclosure forms.

Neither company has ever hired lobbying help before, according to federal records.

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced late last year that it was investigating illnesses and deaths associated with caffeinated products after receiving several incident reports that claimed a connection.

Earlier this month, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released a report that found the number of emergency room visits tied to energy drinks had doubled in the last five years.

Companies that produce the popular energy drinks — such as 5-Hour Energy, Monster Energy, Rockstar and Red Bull — deny any connection between their products and health problems. They say that problems arise when consumers have more caffeine than the 200 mg to 400 mg amount recommended by the FDA.

Red Bull has hired Podesta’s firm to "educate policymakers regarding energy beverages," according to disclosure forms, and Olsson to "advise, consult and advocate regarding beverage regulation," particularly in the House.

Monster Energy, which is currently battling claims that its drink caused the death of a 14-year-old and at least four others, hired Covington to lobby the Senate regarding "legislation and oversight regarding energy drinks," according to federal forms.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have pressed the Obama administration to crack down on the drinks.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have been some of the loudest proponents of tighter FDA regulations. Last week, the two senators joined Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) on a letter that asked more than a dozen companies for more information about their marketing campaigns, labeling and ingredients.

"This investigation follows recent adverse event reports of illness, injury and death allegedly linked to the consumption of products marketed as 'energy drinks' or 'energy shots,' and mounting concerns regarding the safety of this rapidly growing class of products," the lawmakers wrote.

Blumenthal and Durbin met with FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in December to air their concerns about the energy products. They said Hamburg is committed to "moving forward ... to protect vulnerable populations against high levels of caffeine in energy drinks."

"The energy drink makers are mistaken if they believe they have escaped regulatory oversight to safeguard consumer health," the Democratic senators said.

Consumer Reports alleges that the labels on energy drinks are often incomplete or misleading. Doctors recommend that adults not consume more than 400 mg of caffeine per day, while a 5-Hour Energy Extra strength packs 242 mg of caffeine into a 3 oz. package.

The Consumer Reports study found that an 8.4 oz. can of Red Bull has 83 mg of caffeine, an 8 oz. Monster Energy drink has 92 mg and a 15 oz. Starbucks Doubleshot contains about 88 mg, less than the amount in its freshly brewed coffees.

Most of the popular drinks tested by Consumer Reports did not list the amount of caffeine in the beverage — and five that did contained 20 percent more than listed.

— Elise Viebeck contributed.