By Sara Swann,
For the past five years — with the exception of a dip in 2016 — spending on lobbying in the first six months has been steadily increasing.
Overall spending for the first six months of 2017 amounts to $1.66 billion — the highest it has been since the first half of 2012, which was followed by a roughly $50 million drop in 2013.
However, while money has been pouring in, the number of lobbyists has been dwindling. Since the first quarter of this year, approximately 940 stopped lobbying, but 605 new lobbyists entered the fray. This ebb and flow brought the total number of active lobbyists for the second quarter to 9,460 — 335 less than the first quarter.
The change in lobbyist totals for the first and second quarters of 2016 was not as drastic. After the first quarter of last year, 500 lobbyists ceased activity, but 439 newcomers began their work in the second quarter so the number of lobbyists dropped by 61.
The declining number of lobbyists may be something of an illusion, though. A recent report from the Center for Responsive Politics found that almost one-third of 2016 lobbyists who were not active in the first quarter of 2017 stayed at the same company, but now work under a new title that suggests they still work to influence U.S. federal policy.
The approach to lobbying nowadays seems to be quality over quantity as fewer lobbyists are doing more work to sway federal government policy. But our research indicates a significant portion of those who are ostensibly no longer active continue to do similar work without the scrutiny of public disclosure.
Among industries, the Pharmaceuticals & Health Products industry spent the most on lobbying in the second quarter — almost $63.8 million. This total is nearly $2.7 million more than what Big Pharma spent in the second quarter of 2016.
Big Pharma’s main advocate, the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, spent the third-most among lobbying clients in the second quarter with a total of nearly $6.1 million. The group also saw a 35 percent (or almost $3.7 million) increase in its lobbying efforts for the first half of the year compared to the first half of 2016.
Another major pharmaceutical company, Novartis, also saw a significant increase in its lobbying spending for the second quarter. Novartis spent 32 percent, or roughly $1.4 million, more on lobbying for the first six months of 2017 than it did for the same time period last year.
Big Pharma’s main lobbying topics this year have been drug importation, safety and counterfeiting; pharmaceutical drug pricing and transparency; policy issues involving the Affordable Care Act, specifically regarding Medicare and Medicaid; and general domestic and international corporate tax reform.
Another growth area for lobbying is the internet industry, with ever-growing companies like Amazon.com, Facebook Inc and Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc, at the forefront of the industry’s lobbying efforts. The internet industry saw a 14 percent increase in spending for the first six months of 2017 compared to the first six months of 2016.
Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook are the top three lobbying clients in the internet industry and all also appeared in the top 40 lobbying spenders for the second quarter of 2017. Alphabet saw an 18 percent (or roughly $1.4 million) increase in lobbying efforts for the first half of the year as compared to the beginning of last year. Amazon also saw a lobbying increase of 7 percent, or $384,000, and Facebook spent 12 percent more (or $618,000) on lobbying for the first two quarters of 2017.
The biggest 2017 lobbying issues for companies within the Internet industry include data protection, privacy and security; cybersecurity; telecommunications policy; taxes; and copyright issues. One proposed piece of legislation, the Marketplace Fairness Act, has also been receiving lobbying attention; the act would allow state governments to collect sales tax from remote retailers who are not physically present in the state.
Other big tech companies like Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp in the Electronics Manufacturing & Equipment industry also saw increased lobbying efforts for the first half of 2017. While Microsoft spent nearly $4.5 million on lobbying compared to Apple’s $3.6 million, Apple saw a larger increase in its lobbying efforts at 60 percent versus Microsoft’s 9 percent increase. As a whole, the electronics industry saw a 14 percent boost in its lobbying efforts for the first half of 2017 compared to the first half of 2016.
For tech companies the most important lobbying topics in 2017 so far are domestic and international tax reform; general patent and copyright issues related to music licensing; immigration, specifically involving high skilled visas for workers; and net neutrality.
The industry that saw the largest percent difference between the first six months of 2016 and the first six months of 2017 was the marijuana industry with a 100 percent increase. The marijuana industry reported more than $450,000 in lobbying money for the first half of this year — its highest amount yet and double what it spent in the same time span for 2016.
A recent supporter of marijuana legalization and growth, Scott’s Miracle-Gro, increased its lobbying in the first half of 2017 by 250 percent compared to the first half of 2016. The company, known for its lawn and garden products, is now capitalizing on marijuana by developing new products to improve cannabis growth.
However, not all industries have been thriving this year so far. Groups lobbying on women’s issues experienced the biggest drop in lobbying money at 50 percent, spending approximately $133,000 less during the first half of 2017 than it did during the first half of 2016. The main reason for this drop is that the National Women’s Law Center has not reported any lobbying activity for the year so far.
Although there are fewer lobbying organizations focused on women’s issues than there are, say, pharmaceutical companies, some groups known for supporting women did see lobbying increases this year. Planned Parenthood, for example, had a 21 percent increase in its lobbying efforts for the first six months of 2017 compared to the first six months of 2016.