Politics

Spending Bill, Tariffs Drive Lobbying as 2018 Elections Approach

Future uncertainty also plays major role

K Street sign at 15th and K Streets in Washington, D.C. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

An omnibus appropriations package, steel tariffs, regulatory work on the new tax law and general uncertainty about the nation’s direction on policy and governing fueled K Street business during the first three months of this year.

The politics of the coming November midterm elections will consume the Capitol for much of the rest of 2018, as lawmakers debate a farm bill, possible new disclosures for social media companies and federal spending beyond Sept. 30.  

“There’s a lot of uncertainty with this current administration about which direction we’re going to be headed, so we’ve been very clear with our clients and potential clients that people need to stay vigilant and engaged,” said Elizabeth Gore, who leads Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s government relations department. “We’re in an election year, so that always has an influence over what the floor agenda looks like in the House and Senate.”   

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along with its affiliated Institute for Legal Reform, kept its reign as the biggest spender on federal lobbying, shelling out more than $22.9 million in the first quarter, according to lobbying reports filed with Congress. The disclosures, due late Friday night, cover lobbying activity from January through March.

The chamber disclosed it tried to exert influence on numerous issues including on the administration’s proposal for new steel and aluminum tariffs, financial services regulatory measures, tax and health care policy.

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“Our first quarter lobbying report reflects our continued advocacy for pro-growth, pro-jobs policies that will ensure U.S. businesses stay strong and competitive in today’s ever-changing global economy,” said Blair Latoff Holmes, a vice president and spokeswoman for the chamber.

“The Chamber also presented a four-point Infrastructure modernization plan and pushed for meaningful action by Congress to advance legislative measures to revitalize America’s aging roads, bridges, airports, and more,” she added in an email to CQ. “We also continued to engage with members of Congress to share the benefits of expanding free and fair trade.”

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In addition to the chamber, health care, technology and defense interests dominated K Street’s work.

Facebook posted its biggest quarterly lobbying tab, $3.3 million, as the social media giant worked to contain damage from a scandal involving the British-based Cambridge Analytica, which obtained data on as many as 70 million Americans to help profile them and target their votes during the 2016 elections.

Google is still top in tech, though, reporting $5 million on its federal advocacy campaigns, making it the sixth biggest spender of all.

Amazon, a sometime target of President Donald Trump’s ire, reported shelling out $3.4 million on federal lobbying, making it the 20th biggest spender.

Gore’s firm, Brownstein Hyatt, counts among its roster of clients Amazon, Comcast and the immigration group FWD.us which Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg helped launch. The firm said its first-quarter federal lobbying revenue of $7.2 million represented an 8 percent increase over the first quarter of last year.

The omnibus spending package helped fuel some of that revenue, along with residual work from last year’s tax overhaul and financial services policies, Gore said.

“Those are packages that had lots of issues that touched lots of different clients,” she said.  

Lobbyists say they expect the farm bill and legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration to generate business in the second quarter that began April 1. 

K Street also has mobilized this year to lobby the Treasury Department on how the administration implements the new tax law. Lobbyists are also pressing lawmakers to fix bumps and mistakes they’ve encountered since the law’s passage and to extend lapsed or expiring tax credits.

Some lobbyists, expecting partisan gridlock to dominate the agenda, already are looking to a post-election lame-duck session of Congress to move such items. 

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