These days, succeeding in persuading the government to take action requires more than an eloquent speech or having the right connections in Washington. More than likely, it takes quite the pocketbook as well. Lobbying has become a trillion-dollar industry as government interests continue to expand. Especially with the government becoming more involved in industries such as health care and the automotive sector, the never-ending battle over funds from the state is only set to escalate in the coming decades.
Lobbying is a process that can have distinctive benefits for many different groups of people. It allows for organizations to convey information to government officials, which can lead to improved social or economic policy goals. It creates forums for debate between different groups and sets of politicians, providing an effective means by which research can be profitably undertaken in order to support an opinion. Also, it helps to create employment within lobbying groups and corporations that participate in the process. However, lobbying is a word that comes with its fair set of negative connotations. Associated with overspending, corruption, and the increasing intertwining of corporation and the government, many Americans have come to view excessive lobbying as an unnecessary evil.
In the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, sentiments toward lobbyists from many people have sunk to an all time low. In addition, battles between groups of lobbyists often mean that, when one group wins, another group loses. The website opensecrets.org is dedicated to tracking and informing the public about the flows of money in the U.S. government, monitoring such activities as campaign contributions and lobbying. In 2013, many companies and organizations have crossed the $10 million threshold, including Northrop Grumman, AT&T, Google, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin. Courtesy of their data, here are the top 6 lobbying organizations, by dollar amount, so far this year.
6. General Electric (NYSE:GE)
The sum needed to crack the top 6 groups is no less than $13.84 million so far this year, which happens to be the amount spent in lobbying by General Electric. Generally concerned with issues in finance and energy, the company has consistently been one of the top lobbying corporations. In 2010, the company spent about $40 million in lobbying for government actions, nearly three times the amount that it has spent so far this year.
5. Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ:CMCSA)
The next name on our list is Comcast, the parent company of NBC and Universal Studios. Having deep interests in the television, movies, and media sectors, Comcast is also one the leading cable providers, pitting it against streaming services and other content providers as well. There’s plenty that Comcast would like to see the government enact, spending nearly $14 million in lobbying so far this year. Ironically, the top recipients of the company’s money include associations of governors and candidates from both parties, making the firm at least somewhat balanced in its contributions.
4. American Hospital Association
The effective and efficient provision of America’s health care networks is ostensibly the goal of the American Hospital Association, which has doled out over $14.1 million in funds so far this year. Considering the number of bills that go through congress concerning health care issues, it’s no wonder that the group needs so much money in order to support or oppose various initiatives. That’s not even counting lobbying on the state level, where the group has given support to governors who align with their perspectives.
3. Blue Cross / Blue Shield (NYSE:WLP)
Coming in at just over $17 million so far this year, Blue Cross / Blue Shield is awarded the number three spot on our list. Another player in the health care industry, Blue Cross / Blue Shield focuses more on insurance issues than with topics that are more relevant to hospitals themselves. The company’s lobbying costs jumped significantly in 2009, when the debate over what would become the Affordable Care Act began to take full swing. Historically, another big issue for the firm has been trying to lower penalties for Medicare fraud.
2. National Association of Realtors
The National Association of Realtors has spent more than $25 million so far this year in lobbying. The first of two significant jumps from the rest of the pack is made by the association, which represents the interests of those in the real estate industry. This includes much, much more than just real estate agents, as leasers, REITs, and other groups are all interested in seeing their causes represented in Washington. The biggest issues for the group have been legislation governing property management, various business-related laws, and trying to protect real estate transactions from the interests of banking firms.
1. United States Chamber of Commerce
The spot on our list — held by the same group for the last ten years and counting — is taken up by the United States Chamber of Commerce. A different organization than the Department of Commerce, the Chamber of Commerce is not a government organization. So far this year, the group has spent nearly $52 million on lobbying. If you think that’s a lot in 2010 at the height of the debate over the Affordable Care Act, the group spent over $150 million in lobbying. Generally supporting conservative interests, you may think that means that the group lost the health care, but that’s not exactly true. The so-called “Government Option” was kept out of the law. In this way, the group’s influence is very far-reaching, because, even when it seems to lose, it has still had an impact on the result.
If you’re looking for a more thorough analysis of the group’s activities, OpenSecrets produced a report about the organization when it officially crossed the $1 billion threshold in spending since 1998 earlier this year.