Automakers Lobby — but Not as Much

Posted April 20, 2009 at 6:43pm

Automakers and financial services firms that received federal bailout funds are continuing to spend large amounts of money to influence Congress, although less than in a comparable period in 2008, according to recently filed Senate lobbying disclosure reports.

First-quarter lobbying reports for 2009 were due Monday.

The struggling Big Three automakers reported paying out a combined $5.27 million on federal lobbying over the first three months of 2009, a figure that includes money spent on their in-house lobbyists as well.

That’s a 28 percent decrease from the first three months of 2008, when they doled out $7.32 million.

General Motors continued to spend big during the first quarter of 2009.

The automaker, which received $13.4 billion in federal loans, reported $2.8 million in lobbying expenditures so far this year with outside lobbying firms that include the Duberstein Group, Nickles Group, BKSH & Associates, Covington & Burling, Davis & Harman, Ricchetti Inc. and the Washington Tax Group.

GM has no plans to stop its federal lobbying, said spokesman Greg Martin. “We comply and report all of our lobbying activity as required, and we happen to be a part of what is arguably one of the most regulated industries in the country,— Martin said.

“We will continue to have a voice in these policy discussions, and we will continue to report our activity,— he added.

Still, GM’s first-quarter lobbying numbers were down 30 percent compared to 2008 when the company spent $4.05 million with 19 lobbying firms on retainer.

Chrysler also maintained its lobbying presence after receiving federal loan money. The company, which is in talks to form an alliance with Italian automaker Fiat, spent $721,000 so far this year with Timmons & Co. Inc. and Venable on retainer.

The company’s lobbying expenditures are down from $1.35 million in 2008.

“There is significant demand for education and information regarding Chrysler from legislators and government officials,— said Chrysler spokesman Todd Goyer.

Ford Motor Co., which has not received federal bailout funds, continued its lobbying activities at nearly the same pace as 2008.

The company reported spending $1.75 million on federal lobbying, slightly less than the $1.92 million Ford reported paying out over the same time period in 2008.

“We are in constant communication with Congress and the administration about how different policy proposals affect our employees, shareholders, suppliers and dealers,— Ford spokeswoman Christin Baker said.

“Right now, we are laser-focused on Congressional initiatives to help spur consumer demand for fuel-efficient vehicles,— Baker added.

The eight financial services firms that were the first to receive federal loans as part of the Troubled Assets Relief Program also continued their lobbying efforts, albeit at a lower rate than during the first quarter of 2008.

Morgan Stanley’s federal lobbying spending was down $60,000 for the first three months of 2009.

The firm, which has said it would like to repay the $10 billion it received in federal loan money as soon as possible, reported $540,000 in federal lobbying expenditures during the first quarter of 2009, down from $600,000 over the same period of time in 2008.

Citigroup’s spending also shrank during the first quarter of 2009.

The financial services firm, which has received several installments in federal loans, reported spending $1.25 million in the first quarter of 2009 compared with $1.45 million over the same period last year.

The lobby reports of several of the large banks that received federal funds, including Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, were not available at press time.

Still, figures paid to the firm’s outside lobby shops show that they are maintaining a large presence inside the Beltway.

Goldman Sachs, which spent $760,000 during the first quarter of 2008, continued to retain its large retinue of outside consultants. The Gephardt Group, Rich Feuer Group, John T. O’Rourke, RR&G, the Baptista Group, Washington Tax Counsel, Vinson & Elkins and the Duberstein Group billed Goldman a combined $305,000 during the first quarter of 2009.

Goldman Sachs spokesman Michael DuVally declined to comment on the company’s lobbying activity.

Wells Fargo also continued its lobbying efforts in 2009. The California-based bank’s first-quarter lobbying numbers were not available by press time, but company spokeswoman Julia Bernard said they are continuing their federal lobbying strategy.

“We believe our lobbying expenditures are appropriate,— Bernard said.

The company spent $640,000 during the first quarter of 2008, according to Senate lobbying reports. The bank received $25 billion from TARP’s Capital Purchase Program.

“We don’t need the CPP funds to pay for our lobbying efforts,— Bernard said. “Wells Fargo has used the CPP funds to make more loans to creditworthy customers and to find solutions for our mortgage customers late on their payments or facing foreclosure so they can stay in their homes.—

Still, some ethics watchdog groups such as Public Citizen don’t think companies that have gotten federal funds should continue their lobbying efforts.

“Groups that receive public funds even under the regular LDA are prohibited from using those funds from lobbying activities,— Public Citizen’s Craig Holman said.

“What we see are entire companies that now range from 35 percent to 85 percent, or are more publicly owned in terms of the amount we’ve given in public money, are not only continuing very high rate of lobbying activity, but even making campaign contributions,— Holman said.