Congress

Amazon, Facebook up their K Street spending; other players dip

Facebook spent the most in its history on lobbying in this year’s second quarter. Above, CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House hearing in April of last year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Tech powerhouses Facebook and Amazon spent the most in their histories on lobbying in this year’s second quarter, propelling them into the top tier of K Street spenders, while other big players reported a decline in their lobbying investment.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, long the dominant big spender, continued its reign, despite recent turmoil in staffing and a leadership change that has raised questions about the organization’s future. The chamber, drug industry group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and Northrop Grumman reported a dip in spending in the second quarter when compared with the first three months of the year, according to just filed lobbying reports.

Those decreases didn’t hurt the city’s biggest K Street practices, however.

Both Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck posted an uptick in disclosed lobbying fees, with about $10.1 million each for the quarter, those reports show. Akin Gump has a slight edge for the first half of the year, with $19.7 million in fees disclosed under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, while Brownstein’s half-year figure is at $19.2 million.

“We had a very, very strong quarter with spectacular results,” said Marc Lampkin, who chairs Brownstein’s government relations department.

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Lampkin, a former Republican congressional aide, noted that technology issues as well as health care and financial services drove business in the first half of the year and are likely to continue even into the 2020 election year. Some of the firm’s biggest clients in the second quarter were the private equity firm Apollo Investment Management, the business development firm Ares Capital Corp., T-Mobile, and the Credit Union National Association, among others, according to lobbying disclosures.

Technology interests, Lampkin added, are lobbying on privacy, data security, and cybersecurity matters.

“They’re concerned that Congress may impact their bottom lines with the stroke of a pen,” he said.

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For its part, Akin Gump disclosed lobbying on behalf of the Gila River Indian Community, PhRMA, Amazon, and the Business Roundtable, among others.

Hunter Bates, a co-head of Akin Gump’s public law and policy practice, noted the firm’s hires this year including ex-Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, and Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican; former Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana; and former Trump White House aide Clete Willems. He called them an “infusion of top-tier talent” that along with “robust activity on Capitol Hill” helped drive business at the firm.

“We’re looking forward to a busy third quarter, with issues like trade, including the USMCA and China trade deal, appropriations, drug pricing and health care, and tax extenders all on the docket,” he said, referring to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The U.S. Chamber and its affiliates so far this year have shelled out $40.1 million in lobbying, compared with $43 million in the first half of 2018.

The chamber’s second quarter numbers “are up from 2Q 2017, which was also a non-election year,” said the group’s spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel. “We will continue to engage our extensive pro-business federation and grassroots network as we advocate for polices that promote jobs and economic growth ahead of the 2020 election.”

The chamber’s longtime chief Tom Donohue has begun easing out of the $6.6 million-a-year gig, shedding his role as president this year and saying he will depart as CEO in 2022. Suzanne P. Clark has assumed the role of president.

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The chamber disclosed lobbying on numerous issues, including a cybersecurity bill that would require corporate boards to have members with cybersecurity expertise or explain how they are accounting for that expertise in their governance, legislation on drug pricing negotiations, and the renegotiated NAFTA deal, among others.

Amazon, with $7.9 million, and Facebook’s $7.5 million so far this year have outspent even Google when it comes to lobbying. Google, which has been restructuring its K Street operation, terminated its work with six firms: Baker & McKenzie, Franklin Square Group, Prime Policy Group, Slaiman Consulting, the Ingram Group and the Raben Group, lobbying reports show.

Tech companies aren’t the only players disclosing work on cybersecurity and privacy. The second biggest spender on K Street, the National Association of Realtors, disclosed lobbying on such matters as well as broadband policy, tax matters and, of course, housing finance issues.

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