After 2020 tumult, K Street turns to possible deals on Capitol Hill

Realtors group surpasses Chamber of Commerce as top spender

Lobbying by the National Association of Realtors exceeded all other organizations’ spending in 2020, new disclosures show. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Lobbying by the National Association of Realtors exceeded all other organizations’ spending in 2020, new disclosures show. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Posted January 22, 2021 at 2:50pm

The nation’s 10 biggest federal lobbying players, rocked by COVID-19 and the politics of an election year, disclosed shelling out more than $300 million on influence campaigns in 2020. But K Street now turns its focus to potential legislative deals of the new Congress and administration. 

The National Association of Realtors disclosed spending $83.9 million on its advocacy and influence efforts, edging out the long-dominant U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which disclosed $81.3 million last year, according to recently filed lobbying reports. Technology interests, led by Facebook and Amazon, increased their investments in federal lobbying, and medical groups reported spending less in 2020 than in 2019, the reports show. 

COVID-19 relief was a top priority of such lobbying groups, and it remains at the forefront of K Street’s agenda as the Biden administration and Democratic-led House and Senate grapple with the health and economic ramifications of the pandemic.   

“Securing protections for our Realtor members in COVID-19 relief legislation was our focus throughout much of 2020 and remains critical to NAR’s advocacy efforts in the months ahead,” said Wesley Shaw, a spokesman for the real estate lobby. The group is also working with the Biden administration and lawmakers on measures that “promote fair housing and racial equity,” he added. 

The pandemic is also still top of mind at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a group that says it will put more focus on bipartisan collaboration when it comes to both its lobbying campaigns and political endorsements and donations. Along with COVID-19 measures, the group will prioritize immigration, climate change and infrastructure legislation, said Neil Bradley, the Chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer. 

“We’ve allowed a bad habit to set in in Washington, which is that people only want to be defined by what they’re against and by their differences,” Bradley told reporters Thursday. “That has led to us being unable to make progress on long-standing issues like immigration and climate change or emerging immediate threats like the pandemic. So we’re going to hold members of both parties accountable to coming together and getting stuff done because we don’t have any time to wait.” 

Technology companies Facebook and Amazon boosted their federal lobbying tabs in 2020 when compared with 2019. Facebook’s $19.7 million expenditure came as President Donald Trump spent much of the year urging Congress to repeal a part of telecommunications law, known as Section 230, that shields social media companies and other online publishers from liability for the messages that users post online.

At the same time, the drug industry lobby known as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America decreased its tab in 2020 from 2019, as did the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association. 

Some of K Street’s biggest shops posted an increase in their revenue from clients that include the American Petroleum Institute, Apollo Investment Management and Del Monte Fresh Produce Co. Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck reported lobbying income totaling $49.3 million, up from 2019’s total of $40.8 million. 

Marc Lampkin, the firm’s managing partner, said looking ahead to the rest of this year, companies are assessing how the change in control of the White House and Congress may affect their businesses. 

“There’s always a tremendous amount of anxiety and anticipation with change in government. Companies and associations are looking to see what the Biden administration is going to do and how it impacts their business,” said Lampkin, a former GOP leadership aide on Capitol Hill.

“I think it’s going to be even busier than last year,” he added, noting that the Biden administration already had made economic ripples with some early decisions, such as canceling the Keystone XL pipeline. “Just imagine as they dig deeper.”  

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Karishma Shah Page, a leader of K&L Gates’ public policy practice, said the firm’s lobbying group had its best year in terms of revenue. “But we’re still happy to put 2020 in the rearview mirror, and be looking ahead to 2021 and the policy work that comes with a new administration and Congress,” she said.

The lobby firm Forbes Tate Partners also saw its revenue increase in 2020 from $15.1 million in 2019 to nearly $20 million in 2020. Founder Jeff Forbes, a Democrat, noted the tight margins by which members of his party control the House and Senate — and said that reality will likely spur business in the lobbying sector.   

“Not only is there a 50-50 Senate, but also you have a 50.2 and 49.8 House,” Forbes said. “There are going to be a lot of grandiose ideas that will be tempered by the numbers. There will be a lot of action, a lot of advocacy.”