Immigration, net neutrality trigger heavy lobbying
Lobbying filings for the second quarter show that the public debate often seeps into the advocacy efforts of companies. This year: immigration, net neutrality and the right to channel a broadcast program using a tiny antenna have caused several companies to spend big in order to influence legislators. Meanwhile, some topics, including gun rights and defense spending, seem to have become too last year for heavy lobbying.
Two organizations that logged the highest growth in lobbying spending, both this year and this quarter, are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Realtors. The real estate group’s $16.5 million lobbying tab in the second quarter brings its expenditures to a total $23.6 million so far this year. That’s more than it had spent in the entire 12 months of any given year before 2012. The association has expanded its lobbying effort to a laundry list of topics that now include net neutrality and immigration, as well as issues that impact realtors more directly, including the reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, flood insurance, mortgage relief, and measures to make streets safer and more bicycle-friendly.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a whale of a political spender that has recently been in the headlines for backing establishment conservatives in key Senate races, including in Mississippi and Georgia, is also set to lobby more this year than in 2013. So far, it has spent a total $54.4 million in 2014, including $29 million in the second quarter. The Chamber has weighed in on appropriations and mortgage fraud enforcement. Along with the Business Roundtable – another influential business group that increased its lobbying effort compared to the same point last year year by more than $2 million, with a total $7.4 million spent between January and June — the Chamber also lobbied on cybersecurity, trade agreements, commodities regulations, as well as immigration reform.
This year has also divided the tech world between free internet activists and large technology corporations. In terms of lobbying, it’s clear that the well-established corporations have the advantage in the debate. The third largest lobbying increase between the first and second quarter of 2014 was logged by Comcast Corp, which publicly announced plans to merge with Time Warner Cable in February. Comcast spent $4.5 million in the second quarter, a 40 percent hike from first-quarter lobbying expenditures of $3.2 million.
Still, the Comcast-Time Warner merger lost the spotlight to other major issues affecting the telecommunications industry, including net neutrality and the debate over retransmission rights. Curiously, though Comcast ramped up its lobbying from the first quarter to the second, its total lobbying effort so far this year reached only $7.7 million — markedly less than the nearly $10 million it had spent at the same time last year. And though the merger registered in the company’s lobbying efforts, other topics included telecom regulations and issues related to net neutrality. The National Association of Broadcasters lobbied on copyright issues, broadcast ownership and retransmission consent, an issue that the Supreme Court addressed in its June ruling on ABC v. Aereo. Elsewhere, News Corp, which began lobbying in 2013, spending close to $3 million that year as the Aereo debate was shaping up, seems satisfied with the ruling. This year, it has spent only about $230,000 (including $100,000 in the second quarter) on lobbying.
As the crisis of unaccompanied minors crossing the Southwest border by the thousands developed in recent months, tech companies have possibly rekindled their efforts to influence immigration reform. Google Inc spent $5.3 million in the second quarter, bringing its 2014 total to $9.3 million. It has lobbied on issues related to patent rights, cyber security, privacy and immigration, among many other issues. Facebook Inc, which has led an open campaign for immigration reform spearheaded by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, spent $ 2.1 million in the second quarter and a total $4.9 million in the first half of 2014. This year, it has advocated largely on the same issues as its fellow Silicon Valley mogul Google. Both companies have worked to pass Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) USA Freedom Act to limit the surveillance abilities of government agencies, after withdrawing their support from a less restrictive House bill.
Since several instances of damaging oil spills earlier this year, chemicals giant Dow Chemical has turned into something of a hulk on K Street. The company has already spent close to $10 million this year to lobby on sundry issues, including duties on various compounds, the Export-Import bank reauthorization and a bill, passed Tuesday, which would require the government to make the process of classifying endangered species more transparent. This means Dow has already spent this year close to its record total in 2012, when lobbying expenditures for the whole year reached $11.6 million. This is a continuation of a trend that emerged in the first quarter of 2014, when Dow displayed the biggest jump in spending from quarter to quarter. As we reported, that increase coincided with a major chemical spill in West Virginia and North Carolina, which prompted the firm to plunge into debates over proposed legislation to more closely monitor chemical companies.
Other groups that spent strikingly more on lobbying this year compared to 2013 include Coca-Cola Co (which spent $2.1 million in the second quarter), United Parcel Service ($1.3 million) and the National Mining Association (close to $2 million). Another former big spender, the Open Society Policy Center, spent $11 million last year on issues including prison reform, human rights in Burma and foreign aid and is now on track to spend similar amounts this year. It has racked up a total tab of $4.8 million in the first two quarters, compared to $2.9 million spent at the same point in 2013.
Some companies, however, are tightening their belts this year on the lobbying front. For Northrop Grumman, a giant defense contractor, the yearly National Defense Authorization Act is bread and butter — and the main focus of its extensive advocacy efforts. In 2012, though, its $17 million efforts paid off: the annual defense budget bill revived an expensive Northrop Grumman Global Hawk drone program — despite the president’s initial plans to slash military spending. In 2013, as the defense budget shrank slightly, Northrop’s lobbying expenditure increased, and it spent a hefty $20 million. But this year, the contractor is on track to spend much less than before. It has only spent $2.5 million in the second quarter and a total 8.5 million this year, which is $3.3 million less than the 9.4 million it had spent at the same time last year.
Other organizations that have greatly reduced their lobbying efforts this year as shown by their relatively modest expenditures in the second quarter include Philip Morris International ($1 million), the National Association for Gun Rights ($1.2 million), the American Council of Life Insurers ($170,000), General Electric ($3.1 million), Charter Communications ($620,000) and Exxon Mobil ($2.9 million). The Advocacy Fund, which began spending mysterious millions to lobby on immigration reform last year, has reduced its spending to pre-2013 levels. It spent nothing on lobbying during the second quarter, bringing its yearly total to $330,000 — peanuts compared to the total $6.3 million it spent throughout 2013, but comparable to its 2012 total spending of $490,000.
But fret not, K Street. There are ups-and-downs depending on the industry, but overall the lobbying during the first six months of 2014 has proved to be level with last year.