Congress

Big business, tech, health care lead K Street spending in 2019

Spending was highest in fourth quarter as Congress passed budget bills and updated NAFTA

Lobbyists say they’re looking at a post-impeachment crunch on major legislative priorities this year before the elections consume lawmakers’ attentions. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Big business, big tech and medical interests were K Street’s top players last year as those industries spent millions of dollars on federal lobbying in the final months of 2019, while lawmakers and the administration wrapped up spending and trade measures.

With the 2020 elections expected to consume lawmakers’ attention this summer and fall, lobbyists say they’re looking at a post-impeachment crunch on major 2020 priorities. Some clients already are gaming out a possible lame-duck session as well as a potentially revamped federal government in 2021.

“The dynamics of the elections are likely, if not certain, to compel House Democrats to continue to act on legislation, like infrastructure,” lobbyist Stephanie Silverman of Venn Strategies said.

Other hot issues this year may include discussions on cybersecurity and data privacy and trade matters, among others. 

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Last year, Facebook, under pressure on Capitol Hill and from the executive branch, spent more on federal lobbying, $16.7 million, than ever before — more than 30 percent above 2018’s $12.6 million. Ditto for Amazon, which increased its federal lobbying tab to $16.1 million in 2019, up from $14.2 million a year earlier.

Major business lobbies, the Business Roundtable (whose members are corporate CEOs) and the National Association of Manufacturers among them, reported big increases in federal lobbying expenditures in the last quarter of the year, fueled largely by trade matters including the renegotiated pact between the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

The roundtable disclosed spending $8.5 million, of its $20 million total, in just the fourth quarter. NAM, too, disclosed some $8.4 million on lobbying from October through December, more than it reported spending in the first three quarters of the year combined.

Top liberal spender

One outlier in the top spenders is the liberal organization Open Society Policy Center, which lobbies in its own right and also funds lobbying efforts by other groups. Open Society, which has ties to the liberal donor George Soros, disclosed spending more than $24 million on lobbying in the fourth quarter of 2019 on such issues as national defense, national security powers and appropriations.

Groups representing hospitals, doctors and pharmaceutical concerns were also among the biggest spenders last year, as lawmakers debated prescription drug pricing and surprise medical billing measures.

Trade policy and administration efforts to roll back environmental regulations were among some of the biggest issues, lobbyist Rich Gold of Holland & Knight said. Those issues will continue to be front and center this year, he added.

The 2020 elections, and specifically the possible changes they may bring in 2021, are already fueling some business.

“A lot of the business community is already doing active planning for some of the issues that would occur in a Democratic administration, like climate change and health care,” said Gold, whose firm’s lobbying revenue, as reported under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, was up slightly in 2019 to about $24.6 million. “There are a lot of people that are spending money already on those activities.”

Spending by Realtors down

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Realtors continued to outpace much of K Street but disclosed spending less in 2019 than in 2018. The chamber spent $76.1 million in 2019 and the Realtors spent $41.1 million. A chamber spokeswoman declined comment. The Realtors’ group spent last year lobbying for the elimination of the home loan cap for veterans’ mortgages and the seven-year reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program, among others.

“In 2020 we are focused on working toward these and other policies that address housing affordability constraints plaguing markets across the country, secure needed infrastructure reforms and improve data privacy laws,” the group’s president, Vince Malta, said in a statement to CQ Roll Call.

Tech giant Google reported a 44 percent slide in its spending on federal lobbying, as it restructured its K Street operation, with $11.8 million in 2019, down from $21.2 million in 2018.

Still, big tech has supplanted the nation’s largest defense and aviation contractors among the 10 largest spenders. Boeing Co. reported spending $13.8 million in 2019, a year of crisis for the company whose 737 Max jets remain grounded worldwide after high-profile crashes. Northrop Grumman disclosed spending $13.3 million, while Lockheed Martin reported shelling out $12.9 million on federal lobbying last year.

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