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The Corporate Players Behind The Billion Dollar Lobbying Industry

In America, powerful corporate lobbying is a matter of fact. But what industries are the most intent on pushing their interests in Washington, and what exactly do they want?

It’s no secret that American companies love to lobby. According to political watchdogs OpenSecrets.org, in 2014, total lobbying expenditures exceeded $3.2 billion, marking the seventh year in a row that more than $3 billion has been spent.

Though corporations may not be the only entities who contribute to that amount (other big spenders include labor unions and various government institutions), they are by far the most prolific.

According to data from OpenSecrets, in 2014 the 20 biggest lobbying spenders represented corporate interests, accounting for nearly half a billion dollars (about $480 million), or 15 percent of all spending both private and public.

But, just who are these organizations, and why are they dropping big bucks to lobby in Washington and across the country?

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data from Opensecrets.org

When it comes to big spending on lobbying, the question isn’t ‘why do it?’ it’s ‘why not?’ For corporations and the private sector, the perks can be irresistible.

Political transparency activists, The Sunlight Foundation, found that in 2011, companies that lobbied more on taxes also paid significantly lower effective tax rate than corporations that didn’t (about .13 to .36 percent per bill lobbied). Some companies even found a way to pay nothing.

Aside from decreased tax rates, corporations also reap a myriad of benefits from maintaining a strong lobbying arm, like greater control of the media, influence over policy, and a generally positive public image.

Which lobby groups are the strongest?

You’ve probably heard the term ‘big pharma’ before, but just how big is ‘big pharma’? If money spent on lobbying is any indication, the answer is huge.

Pharmaceutical companies are frequently the top spenders on lobbying in Washington, and in 2014 alone, the industry as a whole spent a nearly $230 million on promoting their special interests–$16.6 million of which came directly from Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America the top lobbying agency for Pharmaceuticals.

According to OpenSecrets, the industries lobbying goals include strengthening intellectual property laws, ensuring the swift legal passage of their drugs, and advocating for other other policy issues that might benefit the Pharmaceutical industry.

Ranked second amongst industries are business associations which include powerful lobbying groups like The United States Chamber of Commerce, an organization which represents the business interests of corporations around the country.

The US Chamber of Commerce alone spent over $124 million in 2014, making it the biggest spender of any one lobby group nationwide–more than double the National Association Of Realtors, the next biggest spender.

Big pharma and business conglomerates aren’t the only entities getting in on the action, however; tech super giant and one of America’s most beloved companies, Google, was America’s 9th biggest spender in 2014–clocking in just under America’s most hated company, Comcast.

According to Time, they spent their lobbying dollars on a number of issues like net neutrality and President Obama’s initiative to ensure municipalities can build their own broadband networks.

In addition to their Internet advocacy, however they also as financed pro-business research groups on both sides of the political spectrum.

The lobbying effect

The efficacy of powerful lobbying is clear from a corporate standpoint. The amount spent on pushing corporate interests to Washington and elsewhere has by design or happenstance  been correlated to higher company yields–that is to say, there is evidence to suggest that the more money a company spends on lobbying, the more profit it generates.

Lobbying’s effect on politics, however, is a much murkier subject. Critics of lobbying warn that lobbying subverts the political system by pushing the will of business as opposed to that of the governed by giving special interests groups precedence over voters.

The revolving door, or transition of elected officials to private sector lobbying, has also been cited by lobbying critics as a corrupting influence in politics, and has become regulated by a piece of legislation known as “the cooling off period.”

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
James Pero