A K Street Christmas

Lobbyists descend on Congress for fiscal cliff payday

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Lobbyists are cashing in on the fiscal cliff talks as fears of another recession mount.

"Lobbyists generally do pretty well if there’s policy uncertainty," said Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, a government accountability and transparency watchdog group.

Drutman noted that Americans will not know the precise actors and the exact amount of money spent on lobbying during the lame-duck session until quarterly disclosure reports come out in January.

However, the most recent quarterly reports give a sense of who is actively lobbying during the fiscal cliff talks and on which issues they are lobbying.

Drutman wrote on the Sunlight Foundation website that organizations have spent at least $1.3 billion lobbying on taxes, budget and appropriations, and defense during this congressional session.

"The issues that are at the heart of the negotiations … are three of the most heavily lobbied issues in Washington," he told the Washington Free Beacon.

Sarah Bryner, lobbying researcher for the Center for Responsive Politics, noted some surprising organizations lobbying on the sequestration. In addition to defense contractors, local governments—especially California cities—health professional groups, and universities are lobbying.

According to the first three quarterly reports from lobbyists this year, said Bryner, 424 groups have lobbied on the sequestration issue alone.

She said the term "fiscal cliff" has surfaced as a lobbying issue more recently, and some more typical actors are lobbying on that, including Wall Street banks and other financial interests.

Ideological groups are also lobbying on the fiscal cliff issue, Bryner said. She specifically mentioned the liberal People for the American Way as being active during the fiscal cliff talks.

Howard Marlowe, president of the American League of Lobbyists, indicated that the amount people spend on lobbying can vary widely, from $20,000 to $200,000 per year.

"Do we benefit the most?" Marlowe asked. "No. There’s no lobbying firm who would even make the fortune 5,000."

Bryner said that this year has been not been great for the lobbying industry, as the presidential election has sucked away attention and Congress has not been discussing much substantial legislation.

However, she said, she expected companies to increase their lobbying expenditures during FY12’s fourth quarter.

Lobbying expenditures could reach $1 billion as talks heat up in this final quarter. In the third quarter alone, organizations spent $772,000,000 to lobby, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

To compare: During the quarter when Congress passed Obamacare, organizations spent $956,000,000 on lobbying, and within that total the health sector spent $145,00,000. Organizations spent even more: $973,000,000 during the previous quarter.

"People are doing everything they can to protect the interests they represent" during the fiscal cliff talks, said Marlowe. He said lobbyists are working not only on the Hill, but also are running grassroots campaigns to raise awareness and encourage people to contact their government representatives.

Drutman said while organizations are doing some grassroots organizing, that is not their primary means of pressuring Washington right now.

"At this point it’s more about cashing in on the relationships" lobbyists have with lawmakers, he said.

Marlowe said that even though businesses are known for employing lobbyists, associations are also quite active lobbyists.

AARP, for example, held "lobby day" this past Wednesday, during which AARP volunteers and staff visited members of Congress. AARP has been more broadly active, too.

In "addition to traditional lobbying like our lobby day … and our letters to Congress and the White House on the issues, AARP has been engaging in grassroots and robo calls to our members, as well as paid advertising both in print and broadcast," wrote AARP spokeswoman Allyson Funk in an email to the Free Beacon.

Marlowe emphasized that pumping money into lobbying efforts will not necessarily gain the legislative results one may want.

"You don’t necessarily need an army of lobbyists to influence a member of Congress," he said. "You need an convincing argument."

While corruption is a risk, Drutman indicated that illegal bargains are not his primary concern.

"There’s less trading favors and more trading arguments," he said.

Drutman said he is more interested in "who has a seat at the table" and who can make their arguments to those in power.

"Those of us who are lobbying using the facts, which is the vast majority of us, that’s our job," Marlowe said.

Drutman said the stakes are high for lobbyists and their clients.

"If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu," he said.

Andrew Evans   Email Andrew | Full Bio | RSS
Andrew Evans is an assistant editor at National Affairs and a former reporter for the Washington Free Beacon, where he covered government accountability and healthcare issues.

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