Chamber Lobbying Dips in First Quarter

Posted April 20, 2010 at 6:40pm

Even as it waged major battles on health care and financial reform, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday reported a dramatic drop in lobbying expenditures for the first three months of this year compared with the last two quarters of 2009.

The chamber disclosed that it shelled out $25.1 million on federal lobbying for the first three months of 2010, compared with $71.2 million for the fourth quarter of 2009 and $34.7 million for the third quarter of last year.

With a Tuesday deadline for filing lobbying reports to Congress, companies and associations with a stake in health care and other pressing legislative issues, such as banking, broadband and defense, reported spending tens of millions of dollars to influence lawmakers so far this year. Some industries, such as pharmaceutical, telecommunications and high-tech giants spent more this quarter than the final quarter of last year, while associations representing both large and small businesses scaled back their activities.

Health care has clearly been a major focus in the past year for groups such as the chamber, whose lobbying tab substantially jumped in the second part of 2009 as it pumped millions of dollars into advocacy advertising aimed at defeating the Democrats’ plan.

In March, just before Congress approved the health care legislation, chamber officials announced they were underwriting another multimillion-dollar campaign. But apparently the group decided not to open its wallet as much as it previously had, as evidenced by the 65 percent decline in lobbying spending.

The chamber also has launched an effort to defeat the Democratic version of the financial reform bill now being considered by Congress. But much of that effort may not show up until the second-quarter filings.

Despite its reduced spending, the chamber still far outpaced other groups in lobbying expenditures both on health care and other issues for the quarter. And its lobbying expenditures are still far greater than it spent in the first and second quarters of 2009, when it reported $10 million and $7.4 million, respectively.

“During the third and fourth quarters of 2009, we were at the height of the health care reform debate,” chamber spokeswoman Tita Freeman said. “While we remained active on health care during the first quarter of 2010, the debate was winding down.”

Another big player, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents major drug companies, spent $7 million on lobbying for the quarter, up from $6.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2009. The association’s higher lobbying tab was attributable to its final push to get health care passed, an industry official said.

The brand-name drug industry won a number of major concessions in the bill, including a provision that gives its companies a minimum of 12 years to develop ground-breaking biologic drugs before generics can enter the market. Genentech, the California biotechnology firm that stands to benefit from such drugs, increased its lobbying spending to $1.1 million in the first three months of this year from $610,000 in the fourth quarter of last year.

The pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. also substantially upped its lobbying tab to $3.2 million at the beginning of this year from $1.8 million at the end of 2009.

Fattening lobbying budgets, however, did not always ensure success, as the Generic Pharmaceutical Association discovered. Even though the group’s spending for the first quarter was $679,000, up from $565,000 in the previous period, it was still not able to outmaneuver the name-brand drug companies.

On the other hand, AARP emerged a winner on health care even though it doled out less in the first quarter of this year. David Certner, AARP’s legislative policy director, said, “There had been internal budget cuts in certain areas” that affected the lobbying numbers. But he cautioned against reading too much into the decrease, saying the organization was involved in a number of grass-roots and educational activities that did not have to be reported as lobbying.

Other companies with specific interests in the bill maintained level lobbying expenditures. WellPoint, the Indiana-based health insurance company that had been critical of the health care legislation, disclosed spending $1.4 million, just $200,000 more than it did in the previous quarter.

Other issues before Congress and federal agencies also prompted an increase in lobbying early this year.

Consideration of a national broadband plan has preoccupied the telecommunications industry and tech companies. Google, which like many content providers has been pressing lawmakers to ensure open access to the Internet, spent $1.4 million on lobbying in the first quarter of this year, up from $1.1 million in the fourth quarter of last year and $880,000 in the first quarter of 2009.

Meanwhile, telecommunications firms, which have been wary of giving the government too much authority to police the Internet, also increased their budgets.

Verizon’s lobbying bill jumped to $4.7 million in the first quarter from $3.3 million in the last quarter of 2009.

CTIA – the Wireless Association reported spending $2.2 million, up from $1.3 million in the fourth quarter of last year.

“We are not having any trouble keeping busy,” said Jot Carpenter, vice president of government affairs for the group. Carpenter attributed much of the jump in spending to a change in the reporting methodology on the lobbying forms: This quarter the association included its state lobbying activities and advocacy advertising in its overall lobbying figures.

Opposition to certain aspects of the broadband plan as well as performance royalty legislation moving through Congress contributed to a slight increase in the lobbying activity for the National Association of Broadcasters, according to the group’s spokesman Dennis Wharton.

The NAB spent almost $3.6 million on lobbying in the first quarter of this year, about $300,000 more than the last quarter of 2009 and $1 million more than the group spent in the first three months of last year.

The NAB has opposed a provision in the broadband plan that calls for auctioning off television spectrum. The broadcasters group also hired the law firm Covington & Burling to provide assistance in the legal and government relations area, Wharton said.

The Recording Industry Association of America, which has been pushing for the performance royalty legislation opposed by the broadcasters, spent $1.4 million on lobbying, about the same as it spent in the fourth quarter of 2009.

The fight over legislation that would provide more government oversight of Wall Street has also fueled a lobbying frenzy in some quarters.

The Financial Services Roundtable spent $2.7 million in the first quarter compared with $1.8 million in the fourth quarter of last year and $1.4 million in the third quarter of 2009.

On the other hand, the American Bankers Association spent slightly less, or $1.8 million in the most recent reporting period, than the $2.3 million it shelled out at the end of 2009.

The lobbying war between defense giants Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. appears to be winding down since Northrop dropped out recently in the competition for an aerial refueling tanker project.

Both companies reported spending about $4 million each for federal lobbying in the first quarter of this year. At the end of last year, Boeing spent $6.1 million and Northrop Grumman spent $5.4 million.