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Asbestos Sparks Big Spending

The largest U.S. manufacturers and insurance companies spent more than a $1 million a month — a whopping $36,000 a day — in the first six months of the year pressing for asbestos reform legislation, making the issue one of the priciest lobbying fights of the year.

According to recently released documents, General Electric, Honeywell, Dow Chemical and a handful of other large manufactures spent $5.56 million from January to June to approve legislation that would change the way asbestos lawsuits are handled.

Meanwhile, a dozen large insurance companies, from American International Group to the St. Paul Companies, kicked in an additional $1.01 million to push for the bill in hopes of avoiding hundreds of millions of dollars in liabilities from workers who contracted mesothelioma from prolonged exposure to asbestos.

Together, the two business coalitions spent $6.57 million on the issue in the first half of the year, according to lobbying disclosure forms.

A separate set of manufacturers represented by the National Association of Manufacturers kicked in an additional $180,000 to support the bill.

“It’s just a tremendous amount of legal work involving hundreds and hundreds of companies across America,” said Joel Johnson, a lobbyist for the Harbour Group and a spokesman for a coalition of large manufacturers backing the bill.

The campaign by the manufacturers’ lobbying alliance, the Asbestos Study Group, placed the group among the largest lobbying organizations in Washington for the first time, according to rankings compiled by PoliticalMoneyLine.com.

The manufacturers ranked No. 11 on the list, just behind Freddie Mac and a few notches above the Business Roundtable, a coalition that represents hundreds of the largest U.S. corporations.

In addition to the money spent directly by the large manufacturers at the Asbestos Study Group, the lobbying campaign was aided by the individual companies in the coalition.

The biggest lobbying spender in the first half of 2003, for example, was General Electric, a major stakeholder in the asbestos fight and the ringleader of the business community’s reform effort.

General Electric spent $9.7 million lobbying Washington from January to June 2003. A portion of its federal lobbying efforts was devoted to asbestos reform, though the lobbying reports filed by the company do not break down how the money was spent.

It comes as no surprise that each of the firms that ranked among the top lobbying spenders this year are involved in major legislative battles on Capitol Hill this year.

The American Medical Association, the second-largest spender with $8.9 million in lobbying fees, was busy with health care legislation, while No. 7 Philip Morris ($6.5 million) hoped to approve favorable regulations on the cigarette industry, and No. 8 Edison Electric Institute ($6 million) pressed for legislation to deregulate the nation’s electricity marketplace.

But no figure was more startling that the six-fold increase posted by the manufacturers and insurers over the previous six months.

Of the $5.6 million spent by the Asbestos Study Group, about $5 million went to Swidler, Berlin Sheriff Friedman and its Harbour Group subsidiary for legal and lobbying work.

The remainder was spread out to a handful of well-connected shops, such as Alexander Strategy Group ($120,000) and McGuiness & Holch ($200,000).

The group represents large manufacturers who hope to avoid what could be enormous liabilities for covering medical bills of workers who contract mesothelioma.

The companies hope to create a trust fund to cover legitimate health care costs and create a strict medical standard for determining which workers qualify to dip into the fund.

Although most members of the Asbestos Study Group are not known, some companies involved include Honeywell, Dow Chemical, Halliburton, General Motors and Pfizer.

The Asbestos Study Group is backed by a team of a dozen large U.S. insurance companies who also fear massive asbestos court settlements.

The insurance companies, represented by the American Insurance Association, paid $1.01 million in the first half of the year to a string of powerful lobbyists, including Marc Isakowitz and Kirk Blalock of Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock ($280,000); Ed Gillespie, Mark Lampkin and Dave Hoppe of Quinn Gillespie & Associates ($220,000); Tony Podesta, John Podesta and Dan Mattoon of PodestaMattoon ($160,000); John Green and Stewart Hall of the Federalist Group ($40,000); Jeff Peck of Griffin Johnson Madigan Peck Boland Dover & Stewart ($180,000); and Manus Cooney of Potomac Counsel ($120,000).

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