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Lobbyists didn’t suffer a slowdown in 2009

Health industry spent $544m

By Jonathan D. Salant
Bloomberg News / February 13, 2010

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WASHINGTON - The recession did little to slow lobbyists in the nation’s capital last year, the Center for Responsive Politics reported yesterday as it detailed a 5 percent growth in expenses to a record $3.47 billion.

The US Chamber of Commerce led the way, spending a record $144 million. No group had eclipsed the $100 million threshold. Exxon Mobil, based in Irving, Texas, was next with $27.4 million.

In 2008, the Chamber of Commerce spent $91.7 million.

“Lobbying appears recession-proof,’’ Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics research group, said in a statement. “Even when companies are scaling back other operations, many view lobbying as a critical tool in protecting their future interests.’’

General Electric, based in Fairfield, Conn., was the second biggest-spending corporation with $25.5 million, up from $19.4 million in 2008. GE’s NBC Universal subsidiary is seeking approval to merge with Philadelphia-based Comcast.

The health industry spent $544 million, up 12 percent over 2008, as Congress debated legislation to overhaul health care. The Senate and House have passed separate versions of a health care plan.

Final health care legislation has been held up as Democrats decide how to proceed following the Senate victory of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts. That cost the Democrats the 60th vote they needed to break Republican filibusters.

The drug industry’s trade group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, spent $26.2 million, 30 percent higher than 2008 and third-most among individual concerns hiring lobbyists in 2009.

Four other health care groups were among the top 10 spenders last year: New York-based Pfizer, which spent $24.6 million; Chicago-based Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and its members, $22.7 million; Washington-based AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, $21 million; and the Chicago-based American Medical Association, $20.8 million.

The US Chamber of Commerce also spent heavily on the health care overhaul. Some of the chamber’s overall spending included “grass-roots’’ lobbying efforts, which most other organizations don’t disclose, the center noted.

A nonprofit, independent group, the Center for Responsive Politics tracks money in US politics and its effect on elections and public policy.

It reported that the finance, insurance, and real estate industry, facing congressional proposals for stronger regulation, spent $465 million, up 1 percent from 2008. Some large financial institutions, including Bank of America and New York-based Goldman Sachs, decreased their lobbying spending as they accepted federal bailout funds under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Other previous lobbying stalwarts had a more precipitous decline. American International Group, for instance, spent just $2.27 million on federal lobbying - a quarter of its 2008 spending - before shutting down lobbying operations in June. Mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stopped lobbying after each spent tens of millions of dollars earlier in the decade.

The number of companies or entities that reported lobbying the federal government in 2009 increased to 15,712, from 15,049. But the number of registered federal lobbyists decreased, falling to 13,742 from 14,442 in 2008. That did not keep the overall expenditures from accelerating. Spending, fueled by intensifying efforts to overhaul health care and financial regulations in the fall, reached $955.1 million in the last quarter, the first quarter in history that expenditures cracked the $900 million mark.

“Despite the odds, last year was a record year for lobbying,’’ Krumholz said. “However, it’s entirely possible that even more lobbying dollars will be spent in 2010.’’

Top lobbying associations

Pharmaceutical and health products: $266.8 million

General business associations: $183 million

Oil and gas: $168.4 million

Insurance: $164.2 million

Electric utilities: $144.4 million

Computer/Internet companies: $118.9 million

General manufacturing and distributing: $113.4 million

Hospitals and nursing homes: $108.4 million

Television, movies, and music: $107.3 million

Education: $98.6 million

Source: Center for Responsive Politics