Retailers, drug industry surge in lobbying’s top 50

Retailers, drug industry surge in lobbying’s top 50

A top trade group for retailers nearly doubled its lobbying spending in the first half of the year amid its successful campaign to kill the border-adjustment tax.

Meanwhile, drug companies sent their lobbying into overdrive as the Trump administration and lawmakers threaten action to lower prescription drug prices.

Those were just a few of the movers and shakers in the first half of 2017, according to a tally of the top 50 lobbying spenders in Washington compiled for The Hill by the Center for Responsive Politics. (SEE THE TOP 50 AT THE BOTTOM.)

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Combined, the corporate world spent more than $360 million on lobbying from January through June — almost a quarter of the entire amount spent trying to influence Washington so far this year. To crack the top 50, a group or company had to shell out at least $4.19 million.

“President Trump ran as an outsider, but there are a lot of D.C. insiders working hard to ensure their clients’ voices are heard. Regardless of what Congress has or hasn’t achieved so far this year, many companies are spending big bucks to have a seat at the table,” said Michael Beckel, the manager of research, investigations and policy analysis for Issue One.

“In fact, the first six months of the Trump administration have been a lobbying bonanza for some,” he said.

The National Retail Federation, whose advocacy spending went up by 97 percent to more than $7 million, campaigned heavily against the GOP’s proposal for a border-adjustment tax, which House Republicans abandoned last week.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce remained the biggest spender of all in early 2017, a spot it has occupied for more than a decade. In the first six months of the year, the Chamber spent nearly $40 million.

Behind the industry giant is the National Association of Realtors, which spent $21.1 million, on pace with 2016.

The Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) led the way in drug company increases, coming in at No. 3 by spending more than $14.2 million. Novartis, Bayer and Amgen each increased their lobbying spending 30 percent or more from last year.

“PhRMA does not comment on our advocacy efforts. We do not have anything additional to say outside of what we publicly report in our filings,” said Nicole Longo, a spokeswoman for the group.

Aside from the healthcare and tax policy debates raging on Capitol Hill, a spokeswoman for biopharmaceutical company Amgen attributed its $6.6 million in lobbying spending, a 42 percent increase from last year, to higher dues to trade groups.

“Our 2017 lobbying efforts and expenditures reflect Amgen’s increased advocacy efforts to provide patient access to and advance the coverage of existing and future products,” said Amgen spokeswoman Kelley Davenport, but the 42 percent increase was “mostly a result of higher trade association dues and the fact that we paid the bulk of those dues in the second quarter.”

In an emailed statement, Bayer spokeswoman Carolyn Bender said: “Bayer is proud to actively participate in the U.S. political process to ensure that our voice is heard.”

Another big spender was the American Petroleum Institute, which boosted its lobbying by 64 percent to $4.86 million, one of the largest increases of any group.

The George Soros group Open Society Policy Center spent $4.56 million this year, a 47 percent increase over 2016.

But part of that total includes grants it gives to other groups, such as Human Rights First, the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Center for International Policy. Those groups then lobby on issues like presidential appointees and policies related to social programs and foreign policy.

“We make grants each year depending on what is happening in Congress, and there has been a lot going on in 2017, including debates over the Affordable Care Act and nominations for the new administration,” said Jonathan Kaplan, a spokesman for the Open Society Policy Center, in an emailed statement.

One of the difficulties in comparing lobbying spending is that not everyone reports it in the same way.

While most companies and groups choose to disclose only the money they spend strictly on lobbyists and shoe-leather lobbying, others opt for a broader definition of advocacy.

Although disclosures look exactly the same, some filers use the so-called IRS method that factors in other advocacy spending, including political advertisements.

Twenty-one trade groups and corporations on the top 50 list use the IRS guidelines for their disclosures, including the Chamber, the National Association of Realtors, General Electric, Koch Industries, Dow Chemical, the Business Roundtable and several defense contractors.

The use of the IRS method often explains why a group has dramatic decreases and increases in lobbying expenditures.

The National Retail Federation went from spending $3.72 million in the first half of 2016 to $7.31 million so far this year. It reports its lobbying spending with the IRS method.

It was also one of the leading voices on issues related to tax reform, successfully fighting off a provision called the border-adjustment tax that some Republicans wanted to fund the reforms.

However, David French, the National Retail Federation’s senior vice president for government relations, said the fight on tax reform, healthcare and a battle on swipe fees aren’t over.

The group budgeted a specific amount it intended to use on the border-adjustment fight — and French says it still has “a few million dollars” left over. It hasn’t made decisions on how to use it yet, but the war chest “will free up resources to help Republican leadership get tax reform done,” he said.

The IRS method likely also helps to explain decrease in spending by the Chamber, Business Roundtable and potentially FedEx.

The Business Roundtable was active on trade in 2016, but the Trans-Pacific Partnership that it supported died at the end of the year. Now it’s prepping for the fight over tax reform.

Additionally, increases in lobbying spending are sometimes the result of pending mergers and acquisitions.

The consolidation of Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable, for example, resulted in higher spending in the first half of the year — a 42 percent increase, coming in at $4.45 million.

James Thurber, a distinguished professor in the Department of Government at American University, noted the dominance of corporations and trade groups in the top 50, with few grassroots organizations able to muster the same level of spending.

“The theory is that competition brings out the best policy,” he said. “Obviously, this is one-sided.”

 

Top 50 Lobbying Spenders - Mid-Year 2017

ClientFirst half of 2017 spendingFirst half of 2016 spendingPercent change
US Chamber of Commerce*$39,960,000$52,320,000-24%
National Association of Realtors*$21,132,697$21,417,467-1%
Pharmaceutical Research
and Manufacturers of America
$14,227,500$10,555,00035%
American Medical Association*$12,455,000$11,275,00010%
Blue Cross/Blue Shield$12,287,100$12,127,9941%
American Hospital Association*$10,625,050$11,516,805-8%
Alphabet, Inc./Google$9,450,000$8,040,00018%
AT&T$8,780,000$8,550,0003%
Boeing*$8,750,000$9,230,000-5%
Dow Chemical*$7,690,000$7,760,982-1%
National Association of Broadcasters*$7,630,000$8,368,000-9%
Comcast$7,480,000$7,100,000-5%
Lockheed Martin*$7,432,900$7,187,7753%
National Retail Federation*$7,310,000$3,720,00097%
Northrop Grumman*$6,820,000$6,940,000-2%
Amgen$6,620,000$4,660,00042%
Southern Company$6,540,000$6,710,000-3%
Amazon.com$6,230,000$5,846,0007%
Exxon Mobil$6,070,000$5,740,0006%
NCTA-The Internet & Television Assoc.$6,060,000$6,320,000-4%
Novartis AG$5,879,510$4,453,24132%
General Dynamics*$5,790,599$5,272,14310%
Koch Industries*$5,780,000$5,650,0005%
Verizon Communications$5,690,000$5,420,0008%
American Bankers Association*$5,641,000$4,745,00019%
Pfizer$5,640,000$6,070,000-7%
Facebook$5,590,000$4,972,00012%
General Motors$5,570,000$4,730,00018%
Business Roundtable*$5,500,000$8,060,000-32%
United Technologies*$5,480,000$4,638,00018%
Oracle*$5,475,000$4,120,00033%
FedEx$5,228,000$5,960,000-12%
Chevron$5,140,000$4,110,00025%
National Amusements$5,138,790$4,610,00011%
CTIA*$5,000,000$4,860,0003%
Altria Group$4,970,000$4,510,00010%
Bayer AG$4,970,000$3,740,00033%
American Petroleum Institute$4,860,000$2,970,00064%
Prudential Financial$4,695,000$5,285,000-11%
Biotechnology Innovation Org.$4,650,000$4,570,0002%
AARP$4,610,000$3,890,00019%
Open Society Policy Center$4,560,000$3,110,00047%
General Electric*$4,522,000$3,825,00018%
Charter Communications$4,450,000$3,130,00042%
Microsoft*$4,450,000$4,090,0009%
Edison Electric Institute (EEI)*$4,390,000$4,300,0002%
National Association of Manufacturers*$4,390,000$3,910,01412%
United Parcel Service (UPS)$4,299,814$4,533,200-5%
Royal Dutch Shell$4,220,000$4,670,000-10%
Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers*$4,190,000$4,081,0003%
    
    
Data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics using federal disclosures

* These entities use a broader definition of advocacy activities that includes other spending — like political ads — in addition to traditional lobbying.