Business & Lobbying

Lobbying’s top 50: Boeing, Amazon on the rise

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An elite group of 50 companies and trade associations spent a combined $714 million to lobby Washington in 2015, according to new disclosure data tallied for The Hill.

The total represents a quarter of all the money spent on federal advocacy in 2015, and it includes some of the biggest names in corporate America, including Amazon, Boeing, Exxon Mobil Corp., Blue Cross Blue Shield and Lockheed Martin.

While $714 million is an eye-popping figure, it is a 5 percent drop from 2014, when the top 50’s spending totaled roughly $749 million, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

The total does not purely encompass lobbying. Several groups — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Realtors, notably — included campaign and political spending in their totals.

Still, a look at the top 50 provides a snapshot of where lobbying dollars went in 2015, with many corporate interests significantly boosting their spending in response to legislative and regulatory battles.

Boeing, for example, surpassed Google and Comcast as the top corporate spender on lobbying as it fought to save the Export-Import Bank. The aerospace giant spent $21.9 million on lobbying last year, a 30 percent increase over the $16.8 million it spent in 2014.

Broad support from the business community helped secure a five-year extension of the Export-Import Bank’s charter despite strong opposition from fiscal conservatives in Congress.

Amazon and the Grocery Manufacturers Association posted the biggest percentage increases in lobbying spending last year, with increases of 91 percent and 83 percent, respectively.

The Jeff Bezos-led Amazon
expanded its reach beyond retail to include online video streaming, and the company has been lobbying the Federal Aviation Administration as the agency figures out how to regulate drones. Amazon is developing its own drone fleet in hopes of using it to deliver packages.

Amazon declined to say more about its advocacy to The Hill, citing a general policy of not commenting on lobbying filings.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, meanwhile, has adopted a more aggressive posture on Capitol Hill in response to the increased activity around the labeling of genetically modified food. The industry has sought to develop a voluntary solution that avoids government regulation.

Overall, business groups were active last year, with much of their lobbying energy devoted to the Export-Import Bank and the push to secure trade promotion authority (TPA) for President Obama.

Several groups heavily involved in both those issues, including the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers, increased their lobbying expenditures by at least 30 percent.

The National Association of Manufacturers continued a show of force that began two years ago, when it increased its advocacy from $7.6 million in 2013 to more than $12.4 million in 2014. Last year, its spending grew to nearly $17 million.

“A variety of factors contributed to our increased numbers. Ex-Im and TPA were large policy priorities for our organization,” said Ned Monroe, the group’s senior vice president of external relations. “We are also very heavily involved in the ozone regulatory effort, which included a paid broadcasting campaign.” 

Congress acted on several other big-ticket items in 2015, including tax matters important to the business world.

General Electric, the American Bankers Association and Qualcomm each boosted lobbying spending between 36 percent and 42 percent compared to 2014.

Qualcomm, whose spending increased to more than $7.9 million, jumped into a number of legislative battles, including the first overhaul of education policy since 2002, focusing on science, technology, engineering and math in particular.

The high-tech giant was also active in trade policy, cybersecurity legislation and the work on tax extenders legislation, which renewed the credit for research and development.

The American Bankers Association, where new CEO Rob Nichols started last year, had been active on legislation aimed at rolling back some of the
regulations that stemmed from the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. The group says many of those rules have had a negative impact on financial institutions, particularly community banks. 

“We were partially successful, but not as successful as we would have liked to be,” said James Ballentine, the executive vice president of congressional relations and political affairs at the group.

The American Bankers Association spent about $12.7 million on lobbying in 2015, an increase of about 36 percent.

“We will continue our robust advocacy efforts,” Ballentine said.

While most of the top 50 lobbying spenders are recurring players, a few new names appeared on the list for 2015.

The new additions included Qualcomm, Amazon, UPS, Oracle and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA). UPS and SIFMA landed at No. 48 and No. 50, respectively. 

In order to make the top 50, a company or association had to have spent at least $7.77 million on lobbying in 2015.

The year before, that figure stood at $7.83 million, with the No. 50 spot then held by Time Warner Cable. That company scaled back its advocacy spending last year after calling off an attempted merger with Comcast.

Other companies and groups also cut back on directly lobbying policymakers in 2015. United Technologies, Koch Industries and Dow Chemical each decreased their advocacy by at least 20 percent compared to 2014, data shows.

Kate Ruppa, a spokeswoman for United Technologies, said that a number of factors contributed to the decline, including “actions to reduce corporate costs.”

The company spent $11.47 million on lobbying services in 2015, 27 percent less than the $15.74 million it spent the year before.

Representatives from Dow Chemical did not respond to a request for comment, nor did representatives from Koch Industries.

For the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), which reported a 19 percent drop in its advocacy spending, the decrease was a sign of a job well done.

In 2014, with strong support from the NCTA, Congress passed a reauthorization of legislation governing the television marketplace called the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act.

Lobbying is a more than $3 billion per year industry that employs 11,465 registered lobbyists, according to disclosure data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. 

In 2008, lobbying spending grew from $2.87 billion annually to $3.3 billion per year. It reached a peak of $3.52 billion in 2010 and has seen a gradual decrease since then.

Client 2015 Spending 2014 Spending Percent change
US Chamber of Commerce $84,730,000 $124,080,000 -32%
National Association of Realtors $37,788,407 $55,057,053 -31%
Blue Cross/Blue Shield $23,214,280 $22,218,774 4%
Boeing Co. $21,921,000 $16,800,000 30%
American Medical Association* $21,210,000 $18,790,000 13%
General Electric $20,920,000 $15,170,000 38%
American Hospital Association $20,677,935 $20,773,146 0%
Business Roundtable $19,250,000 $14,840,000 30%
Pharmaceutical Research
and Manufacturers of America
$18,445,000 $16,640,000 11%
National Association of Broadcasters $17,360,000 $18,440,000 -6%
National Association of Manufacturers $16,950,000 $12,410,000 37%
Alphabet Inc. $16,660,000 $16,830,000 -1%
AT&T Inc. $16,370,000 $14,200,000 15%
Comcast Corp. $15,680,000 $17,020,000 -8%
CVS Health $15,230,000 $14,787,640 3%
National Cable & 
Telecommunications Association
$14,120,000 $17,460,000 -19%
Lockheed Martin $13,794,053 $14,581,000 -5%
Southern Co. $12,860,000 $12,340,000 4%
American Bankers Association $12,690,000 $9,323,000 36%
FedEx Corp. $12,405,835 $13,414,536 -8%
Exxon Mobil $11,980,000 $12,650,000 -5%
Verizon Communications $11,790,000 $13,290,000 -11%
United Technologies $11,470,000 $15,378,000 -27%
Northrop Grumman $11,020,000 $10,216,960 8%
Koch Industries $10,830,000 $13,700,000 -21%
Dow Chemical $10,820,000 $14,430,000 -25%
Amgen Inc. $10,525,000 $8,560,000 23%
General Dynamics $10,259,890 $10,720,923 -4%
CTIA – The Wireless Association $10,150,000 $9,540,000 6%
Pfizer, Inc. $10,057,650 $9,493,000 6%
American Chemistry Council $10,050,000 $11,364,703 -12%
Facebook, Inc. $9,850,000 $9,340,000 5%
Altria Group $9,620,000 $9,380,000 3%
America’s Health Insurance Plans $9,480,000 $9,200,000 3% $9,435,000 $4,940,000 91%
General Motors $9,120,000 $8,510,000 7%
Royal Dutch Shell $8,700,000 $8,420,000 3%
Coca-Cola Co. $8,670,000 $9,320,000 -7%
Microsoft Corp. $8,490,000 $8,330,000 2%
Oracle Corp. $8,470,000 $6,810,000 24%
Grocery Manufacturers Association $8,458,786 $4,620,347 83%
Biotechnology Industry Organization $8,350,000 $8,280,000 1%
Edison Electric Institute $8,350,000 $8,470,000 -1%
Open Society Policy Center $8,170,000 $12,400,000 -34%
United Parcel Service $8,155,856 $7,593,995 7%
National Amusements Inc. $7,980,000 $8,030,000 -1%
Prudential Financial $7,962,500 $8,290,200 -4%
Qualcomm Inc $7,940,000 $5,610,000 42%
American Petroleum Institute $7,790,000 $9,090,000 -14%
Securities Industry & Financial
Markets Association
$7,770,000 $7,430,000 5%
TOTAL $713,991,192 $748,994,077 -5%
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