Despite Lagging Economy, K St. Still Thrives

Posted January 19, 2010 at 6:27pm

The economy may be in the dumps, but that did not stop the oil giant Chevron from pumping up its lobbying budget in 2009 to respond to a busy agenda set by the Democratic Congress and President Barack Obama.

Chevron spent $20.8 million on federal lobbying last year, about $8 million more than the California-based oil company spent the previous year, according to the latest lobbying disclosure reports.

Climate change legislation, trade issues, health care and proposed energy taxes were all of concern to the company’s lobbying team, according to its 13-page disclosure report.

With fourth-quarter lobbying reports due to the Secretary of the Senate and Clerk of the House tonight, a number of large companies and associations have already disclosed that their spending to influence federal officials was either equal to or greater than the previous year.

Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbying expenditures, said that based on the currently available data, he expects the total lobbying tab for last year to exceed that of 2008, when it was about $3.8 billion.

“That’s notable because the economy has been so terrible,— Levinthal said.

While he added that lobbying in some beleaguered sectors, such as the auto industry, are down, that has been more than offset by the lobbying on legislation on hot-button issues such as health care, energy and financial reform.

In a statement, Chevron said: “The company is engaging the Administration and U.S. Congress to provide perspectives on complex energy issues affecting the U.S. and world. This includes recommendations on policy matters regarding the economy, climate change, energy security, international issues, education, research and development.—

The company also said it lobbies on international issues that “fall outside of a narrow energy policy focus.—

Even some industries that are experiencing hard times have stepped up their lobbying to get some relief from Washington, D.C.

For example, the National Association of Realtors reported spending $19.3 million in 2009 compared with $17.1 million the previous year. Among the Realtors’ issues were home purchase tax credits for first-time homebuyers, tax credits for energy and water efficiency, foreclosure mitigation and modification of loans for troubled borrowers.

Some companies are also trying to take advantage of the new initiatives that are being pushed by the White House, such as one effort to build a network of bullet trains between major cities. Siemens Corp., the German engineering conglomerate, listed high-speed rail as one of its priorities on its fourth-quarter report.

The company reported spending $5 million on lobbying for 2009, compared with $4.7 million for the year before.

Others are eager for a bigger chunk of the federal budget. Lockheed Martin, the huge defense and aerospace contractor, upped its lobbying spending from $15.2 million in 2008 to almost $20 million last year.

The company listed as some of its priorities the Defense authorization legislation as well as the budget for the Homeland Security Department and activities of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The massive health care overhaul efforts continued to be a big driver of lobbying expenditures, drawing not only those in the health care industry but businesses such as Chevron and Siemens.

Drug companies have been particularly active in the health care debate. Novartis, a Swiss-based drug company, reported spending $6 million on lobbying in 2009 compared with $5.1 million the previous year.

Aside from the health care legislation, the company listed other health care issues such as vaccine coverage for children and adults as well as a reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The Generic Pharmaceutical Association, which is led by Kathleen Jaeger, reported spending $2.1 million in 2009. That compares with $1.9 million the previous year. The generic drug manufacturers are fighting provisions in the health care bill that would give brand-name drug companies a 12-year period of market exclusivity after developing biologic drugs.

Aflac, which underwrites insurance policies, was also active in the health care reform debate, spending $3.8 million in lobbying last year compared with about $3.5 million the previous year. The Georgia-based company listed a number of issues including increasing funding for state high-risk insurance pools on its disclosure forms.

The American Academy of Family Physicians, which has supported the Democrats’ health care overhaul efforts, disclosed spending about $3.1 million in lobbying last year, about the same as it spent in 2008.

A number of companies and associations reported a drop in their lobbying spending budget. General Motors, which filed for bankruptcy last year, spent about $9 million on lobbying in 2009 compared with $13 million the previous year.

The Recording Industry Association of America reported spending $6.2 million in 2009 compared with $6.5 million the previous year. The recording industry is supporting efforts in Congress to allow musicians to receive royalties when their music is played on the radio. And the American Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers, spent $4.6 million in 2009, compared with $5.3 million the previous year.

A spokesman for the trial lawyers group, Ray De Lorenzi, said the variations in spending between quarters and years are insignificant and the group’s activity depends on what is happening on Capitol Hill. De Lorenzi said the association spent more in the last three months of 2009 than it did in the third quarter because limits to medical malpractice cases became a topic in the health care debate.