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US special interest groups flooding Congress with cash
POSTED | 11:05 AM | 01-02-2015

US special-interest groups flooding Congress with cash

-- By Sam Becker

Money and politics, big business, and government; they are inextricably attracted to one another, yet most Americans can agree that their mutual infatuation does not represent the best interests of the nation as a whole. Relatively recent court decisions — including the infamous Citizens United case — have left the door wide open for money to make its way from the private sector to US legislators and policy makers. This has left many Americans crying foul, seeing as how all that money can and will buy influence, leading to more business-friendly laws and tax policies, and even tearing away at social safety nets and protective legislation.

But is that the truth? Does money making its way to US elected representatives actually constitute a form of corruption, eroding its democracy?

According to Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, it may or it may not, and the fact is, it doesn’t really matter. As long as people think it leads to corruption, the effect of outsider money going to Congress is creating issues. It’s hard to deny that lobbying has become an integral part of the US political system, and that it has also become one huge way that big business gets what it wants.

For businesses, lobbying is now more of a method of investment than anything. And as with any investment, those ponying up the cash expect a return. That return can, again, manifest itself in a number of ways, from more favorable regulatory standards, to lucrative government contracts. While many businesses and business groups may donate to a political candidate or take a stand on a given issue, there are a select handful that have really ramped up their efforts in recent years, sending millions, if not billions, to Capitol Hill to tilt the scales.

Which businesses, or special-interest groups have vastly outspent the others? With data from The Center for Representative Politics (CRP), Americans now know. Here are the top 20 biggest business and special-interest groups that spent the most influencing the US political system in 2014.

20. FedEx

FedEx is in the shipping business, and evidently, they’ve been shipping a lot of their revenues to K Street. The CRP reports that FedEx spent more than $13.4 million in lobbying efforts in 2014, in what was likely an effort to help shape labor laws. The company has been involved in legal issues relating to labor in 2014, so any help from the powers on Capitol Hill is probably worth it to them.

19. Koch Industries

Probably the least surprising installment on this list is Koch Industries. The only thing that may come as a surprise is that it only spent $13.8 million in direct lobbying expenses, as reported by the CRP. As we know, this is likely only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Koch brothers, and for nearly $14 million in investments, they’ll expect results.

18. AT&T

Telecom has a lot of skin in the game, especially with big decisions regarding net neutrality and some huge potential mergers in the pipeline. AT&T has chosen not to simply sit back and let the chips fall where they may, sending a bit more than $14 million to Washington D.C. in order to help its causes.

17. Dow Chemical

As far as multinational corporations go, they don’t come much bigger than Dow Chemical. With over $14.4 million in 2014 lobbying expenditures, Dow is definitely hoping to bend the will of legislators to get more favorable treatment, and in fact, outspent every other special-interest group during the first half of 2014. What is it up to, exactly? It’s not clear, but likely has a lot to do with the boost in domestic energy production.

16. Lockheed Martin

War is big business, and with it comes big money. Lockheed Martin, one of America’s biggest aerospace and war contracting companies, spent $14.58 million in lobbying last year, likely in an attempt to win more Department of Defense contracts to outfit the military with heavy hardware. How else do you convince Congress to buy planes they don’t need?

15. CVS Health

Surprised that a drug store chain outspent one of the world’s largest manufacturers of military equipment? Well, CVS Health did just that, dropping nearly $14.8 million on lobbying costs last year. What, exactly, CVS is hoping to see happen as a result of its investments is anyone’s guess, but probably has something to do with changes to health care laws.

14. Business Roundtable

For those unfamiliar with the name, Business Roundtable is a business group comprised of CEOs of major US companies, which promotes pro-business public policy. It was started back in 1972, and now uses the influence of its members, and significant lobbying expenses, to influence legislation. In 2014, the group spent $18.84 million to see that their collective voices were heard.

13. United Technologies

With lobbying expenses topping $15.3 million in 2014, United Technologies managed to outspend Koch Industries, Dow Chemical, and even Lockheed Martin. United Technologies is headquartered in Connecticut, and manufactures advanced technology, along with being a big-time military contractor. The company is behind the weapons systems of many of the military’s most iconic vehicles, including the Black Hawk helicopter.

12. General Electric

General Electric has come a long way from simply making light bulbs and washing machines. Today, GE has its hands in all sorts of industries, including military hardware, and is putting its money to work at the highest levels of government as well. GE spent $16.3 million in lobbying in 2014.

11. Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers Association (PhRMA)

This trade group that represents a smattering of biotech and pharmaceutical companies has been hard at work with its friends on K Street, kicking out $16.6 million in lobbying expenses in 2014. A lot of PhRMA’s lobbying efforts have obviously gone toward influencing new health care legislation, as well as toward things like patent and IP legislation, and for funding.

10. Boeing

As far as Department of Defense contractors go, nobody outspends Boeing in lobbying costs. The aerospace company dropped $16.8 million in lobbying expenses in 2014, which is really nothing considering that it also received 148 government subsidies, totaling over $13 billion. Boeing gets an awful lot of business from the government, and in order to keep the money flowing, the company evidently needs to make sure legislators don’t forget about it.

9. Comcast

It’s not really surprising seeing Comcast fairly high on this list, considering that the company is trying to merge with Time Warner Cable, and fighting net neutrality advocates. Much like AT&T, the company could use all the help in D.C. that it can get. Comcast spent $16.97 million on lobbying in 2014, and it’s hard to deny that it has certainly been influential in those efforts.

8. National Cable & Telecommunications Association

As the principal trade association representing the cable and telecom industry, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association has had its hands full lately. The group spent $17.46 million to lobby Congress in 2014, and when you add that to some of the additional funds kicked in by companies like Comcast and AT&T, it’s clear that the telecom industry is investing heavily in influencing legislation.

7. Google

When Google’s staff isn’t coming up with all kinds of crazy innovations, they’re focusing their efforts on US legislators, sending $17.5 million to lobbying companies to make sure the company’s interests are being taken into consideration. While Google doesn’t really have the ugly reputation that many others on this list have, it’s still very telling when you consider how much money it’s sending to D.C.

6. National Association of Broadcasters

The television and radio industries may seem like they’re going through a tough time with the rise of online and on-demand media, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to go quietly. For-profit, over-the-air television and radio companies coughed up $18.44 million in 2014 for lobbying efforts to make sure that policy makers are keeping their interests at heart.

5. American Medical Association

Another big business group, the American Medical Association (AMA) has likely had its hands full lobbying for the interests of its members due to shifting health care laws and regulations. It spent $19.65 million in 2014, with some going toward issues like pay cuts for doctors. AMA also wasn’t the only big health care association spending big money last year, as we’ll see below.

4. American Hospital Association

Almost mirroring the AMA in terms of lobbyist spending, the American Hospital Association also dropped big bucks: $20.75 million in 2014. The group itself represents hospitals and health care providers, and has set its sights on influencing legislation concerning diverse topics like anti-fraud provisions and liability issues.

3. Blue Cross Blue Shield

Not to be outdone by hospitals and doctors’ groups, medical insurance provider Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) shelled out nearly $21.3 million in 2014. In particular, BCBS kept lobbyists hot on legislators’ heels to ensure that they keep tax breaks that were threatened by the Affordable Care Act, as well as many other of the network’s interests relating to health care and insurance regulation.

2. National Association of Realtors

You may be shocked at how much money the National Association of Realtors (NAR) delivers to K Street lobbyists, as it’s more than double the amount spent by even Blue Cross Blue Shield. NAR spent more than $55 million in 2014, a 53 percent jump from the preceding year. That money apparently does its job, as NAR representatives have spoken rather frankly about what that lobbying has gotten them.

“We carry a lot of clout on Capitol Hill and it opens doors for us when we come to talk to lawmakers about the issues that matter to us,” Iona Harrison, NAR liaison for the Realtor Party disbursement said during a realtor convention in 2014, according to Inman.

1. US Chamber of Commerce

By far the biggest force on Capitol Hill was the US Chamber of Commerce, spilling an incredible $124 million in lobbying efforts over the course of 2014. The Chamber of Commerce is a huge group — representing many businesses and industries — so it makes sense that it would have deep pockets. The business association pushes hard for pro-business policies, and fights hard for deregulation and free-market ideals.

Article link: http://wallstcheatsheet.com/business/these-20-special-interest-groups-are-flooding-congress-with-cash.html/?a=viewall#ixzz3QS87WwZs

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