POLITICS

Top Lobbying Groups Spent $64 Million To Influence Congress, White House

04/23/2015 05:12 pm ET | Updated Apr 23, 2015
ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- The top 10 lobbying spenders shelled out a combined $64 million in the first three months of this year to influence federal policy, according to first-quarter lobbying reports filed with the Senate this week. The number represents an upswing on K Street, where lobbyists and clients are taking advantage of fresh opportunities afforded by the new Congress.

First among the spenders was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which together with its subsidiary, the Institute for Legal Reform, spent $19.5 million to lobby Congress and the White House on topics ranging from free trade agreements to environmental regulation to copyright laws. It appears they were successful, at least in part. On Wednesday, the Senate approved a request by the Obama administration for "fast track" authority in trade deals, paving the way for the Chamber-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to move forward.

Ranking second behind the Chamber was the National Association of Realtors. The group spent $7.7 million lobbying on issues like flood insurance premiums, which have risen sharply in the past few years. NAR also lobbied for the Mortgage Choice Act, a bill that would weaken regulations on mortgage lenders enacted following the 2007 collapse of the housing market. The Mortgage Choice Act passed in the House of Representatives on April 14.

Only slightly behind the Realtors was the American Medical Association, which reported spending $6.7 million lobbying during the first quarter of 2015. Like the top two donors, the doctors' lobby scored a major victory this spring, when both the House and Senate voted to permanently fix a widely acknowledged flaw in the Medicare payment system. The end of the "Doc Fix," as it is known, gives the AMA's members something to celebrate and suggests the group's lobbying money was put to good use.

While the top lobbying spenders in Washington are typically national trade associations with thousands of dues-paying members, this year a new corporation climbed to the top of the solo rankings: Google spent $5.5 million on lobbyists in the past three months.

Google is currently engaged in high-stakes antitrust litigation in Europe, so it makes sense that the Internet's top search site would invest in strengthening its relationships on Capitol Hill and in the White House, lest any U.S. regulators express the same concerns about Google's competitive practices as their European counterparts. According to its lobbying disclosure forms, Google also lobbied Congress on legislation to thwart so-called "patent trolls," to help Google hire more skilled workers from overseas and to support the company's efforts to develop new drones and self-driving cars.

Google's major spending is unusual in part because the corporations that typically top the list are those in highly regulated industries, like public utilities. One such company, American Electric Power Co., spent $4.7 million on lobbying this quarter. That's only slightly less than General Electric Co., one of the nation's largest energy equipment manufacturers, which spent $4.8 million.

Utility companies are engaged in a fierce battle to protect their market share from the booming rooftop solar industry, so it's safe to bet that lobbying expenditures in this sector won't be dropping anytime soon.

Rounding out the list of the top 10 spenders are three perennial K Street powerhouses, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the National Association of Broadcasters and the American Hospital Association.

Overall, nine of the top 15 lobbying groups spent more in the first quarter of 2015 than they did in the last three months of 2014, according to Politico. It's a shift that's likely attributable to the new Republican majority in the Senate. With both chambers controlled by the GOP, bills that might never have passed a Democratic-led Senate may now get a second chance.

Anytime there's a change in the political landscape, it generally means more work for lobbyists. But a GOP majority bodes especially well for corporate interests, such as those represented by the Chamber of Commerce.

It remains to be seen whether the rest of the year will be as productive as the first quarter in terms of legislation passed. But if the past three months are any indication, this could be a very busy year on K Street.

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