Lobbying groups' effectiveness hits new high this year: study

Lobbying groups' effectiveness hits new high this year: study
© Greg Nash

Trade associations are finding unprecedented success in influencing policymakers this year, according to an APCO Worldwide study released Tuesday.

The study, which surveyed 322 congressional staffers, executive branch officials and private sector executives, reported that trade groups are having their best year since APCO started tracking their effectiveness in 2013.

That finding comes after trade groups launched extensive lobbying campaigns to influence Democrats’ coronavirus stimulus package, the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion social spending plan. Their efforts are bolstered by Democrats’ razor-thin majorities in the House and Senate and divisions between the party’s moderates and progressives.

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“The ability of trade associations to have both effective lobbying representation and build direct relationships with the policymakers that matter to them is the most effective aspect of this year’s study, and one of the things that trade associations are performing very well at,” said Bill Dalbec, managing director of APCO Insight.

The pandemic has shut down many in-person meetings, prompting trade associations to use alternative methods to get their messages out by sponsoring Beltway newsletters and buying targeted social media advertisements, which have proven to be hugely effective, Dalbec said.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents private insurers, is the most effective group at lobbying lawmakers and executive branch officials, according to the study. The trade association has successfully pushed Democrats away from embracing a public health care option, a core promise of President BidenJoe BidenHouse passes 8B defense policy bill House approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike Senate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale MORE’s campaign. Democrats instead expanded subsidies for private insurers, a major win for the industry.

Overall, the study found that health care industry groups were the most effective in influencing policymakers this year. Drugmakers, hospitals and other industry players on the front lines of the pandemic have seen their reputation grow on Capitol Hill. 

“While there’s a lot of disagreement within the health care industry on specific items, they came together collectively to attack COVID-19 and were all doing things to get us through the pandemic, and they’re benefitting from that,” Dalbec said. 

The APCO study tracks 15 different characteristics that impact groups’ effectiveness. Wireless industry group CTIA earned top honors for social media, coalition building, local impact and unified voice, which suggests the association is properly representing all of its members. 

The Advanced Medical Technology Association, an influential medical device group, ranked as the best at media relations, member representation and providing accurate information. The Biotechnology Innovation Organization, which is backed by major drugmakers, and the American Hotel and Lodging Association also ranked first in multiple categories.