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Lobbying Spending Drops in Most Sectors

Divided government has not been so kind to K Street as lobbying expenditures plunged in most sectors in the first quarter of this year.

Lobbying revenue for the first three months of the year was down by 12 percent compared to the same period in 2010, according to a CQ MoneyLine analysis of reports filed with Congress this month. It was also almost 5 percent less than the lobbying tab for the fourth quarter of last year.

A number of companies and other entities have yet to file their lobbying reports. However, submission of late filings are unlikely to alter the downward trend that began last year after Congress approved health care and financial reform measures that drew huge lobbying campaigns.

With Republicans controlling the House and a smaller Democratic majority in the Senate, the likelihood of major legislative accomplishments has diminished. Howard Marlowe, president of American League of Lobbyists, said many companies and groups are still trying to figure out what the new Congress aims to accomplish this session.

“There is a lot of uncertainty and not much happening,” said Marlowe, who is also president of the lobbying firm Marlowe & Company.

He also said that the current ban on earmarks has put a damper on lobbying on Capitol Hill.

“A lot of people have thrown up their hands and said ‘We can’t do anything. Why lobby it?’” Marlowe said.

Some lobbyists say they have shifted their focus to executive branch agencies, which are now implementing the legislation approved in the last two years. Not all agency lobbying is required to be reported in the congressional filings.

The drop in reportable lobbying revenue was almost across the board. Lobbying by entities involved in health care this past quarter fell by more than 15 percent compared to first quarter in 2010. Finance and insurance was down by 11 percent and business and retail slid more than 27 percent compared to the same period last year. The defense sector was down more than 10 percent and energy and natural resources fell almost 25 percent.

A notable exception were communication and technology companies and associations, which increased their lobbying expenditures by more than 6 percent over the same period of 2010.

A number of communications firms have been involved in high-profile mergers that require federal approval. They have also been enmeshed in policy debates over control of the Internet and airwaves.

AT&T, which announced last month its intention to purchase T-Mobile, spent $6.8 million on lobbying in the first quarter of this year compared to $5.9 million during the same stretch in 2010.

Comcast, which received federal approval to acquire NBC Universal earlier this year, spent $5.7 million on lobbying in the first quarter compared to slightly more than $3 million during the same period last year.

High-tech firms such as Google and Facebook continued to expand their presence in Washington as they faced a host of emerging issues such as net neutrality and privacy.

The lobbying tab for Facebook, which recently hosted President Barack Obama at a town hall meeting at its California headquarters, spiked from $41,390 in the first quarter of 2010 to $230,000 in the first three months of this year.

Over the past year, the social networking company added a former Bush administration official, Catherine Martin, to its lobbying team and moved its D.C. operations from a quaint Dupont Circle space to larger downtown offices.

“This increase represents a continuation of our efforts to explain how our service works as well as the important actions we take to protect people who use our service and promote the value of innovation to our economy,” Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said in an email. Facebook’s lobbying filings list federal privacy legislation, freedom of expression on the Internet and Federal Communications Commission rulemaking on net neutrality as issues of concern to the company.

Big lobbying budgets have not always brought successful results. One of the top spenders in the first quarter was General Electric, which lobbied to build an alternative engine with Rolls-Royce for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. However, GE lost its bid when the House voted to strike funding for the engine. This week, the Defense Department ended its contract with the companies.

The engine will be built by United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney unit.

GE spent $8.5 million on lobbying in the first three months of this year, compared to $7.3 million during the same time last year. United Technologies spent almost $6 million on lobbying in the first three months of the year, up from almost $4 million in the first quarter of last year.

With the tsunami in Japan causing a nuclear power crisis in that country, nuclear energy advocates here stepped up their advocacy as well. The Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents nuclear power providers, spent $545,000 in the first quarter up from $430,000 in the first three months of 2010. However, Nuclear Energy Institute spokesman Steve Kerekes said that since the disaster occurred March 11, he was not sure if “that would have been enough time to reflect anything or not” in terms of the group’s reported spending on the issue.

The Republican takeover of the House contributed to shipping giant FedEx cutting its lobbying tab.

Last year FedEx was engaged in a lobbying war aimed at defeating a union-backed provision in the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill championed by former House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman Jim Oberstar, (D-Wis.). The provision, backed by shipping rival UPS, would have made it easier for FedEx drivers to organize. However, Oberstar lost his bid for re-election and the new Republican-led House has approved FAA legislation without the union provision.

In the first quarter of this year FedEx reported spending almost $3.9 million on lobbying compared to $6 million in the fourth quarter of 2010 and almost $4.9 million in the first quarter of last year.

UPS spent roughly the same in the first quarter of this year, almost $1.6 million, as it did during the same period last year.

The biggest drop in lobbying spending this year was reported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has traditionally topped the list in terms of lobbying expenditures.

The chamber reported spending less than $11 million in the first quarter of this year, compared to $25.1 million in the first three months of 2010 when the business group was involved in a massive campaign to defeat the health care overhaul legislation.

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.

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