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K Street Files: Google, GM Up Spending to Honor Members

Members of Congress and administration officials got a little less love from K Street in 2011. Lobbyists spent $19 million to honor or fete top policymakers last year, down from $23.2 million the previous year, according to a new report by the Sunlight Foundation.

The price tag includes money spent by corporations, unions or other stakeholders to support Members’ charities or other honorary fees.

The report also found that two companies — Google and General Motors — have bucked the trend by upping their giving to honor officials.

“As Google doubled its lobbying operations from 2010 to 2011, it quadrupled its charitable giving at events honoring lawmakers, from about $65,000 to more than $240,000, becoming the 19th biggest spender honoring officials,” Sunlight Foundation’s Keenan Steiner wrote in the report. “The search giant is fighting multiple high stakes battles in Washington — an antitrust investigation from the Federal Trade Commission, a fight over online piracy legislation, which it won despite being outspent by Hollywood interests, and concerns over the company’s privacy policies.”

General Motors had stopped honoring lawmakers during its self-imposed ban on political contributions, when the government financed its bankruptcy reorganization in the spring of 2009, the report noted. It has begun to honor lawmakers again. By 2011, the carmaker doubled charitable giving from 2010 — to more than $368,000, landing it at 13th on the list of givers.

Google’s largest donation was a $70,000 sponsorship at the Future of Music Coalition’s annual summit, which honored former Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps, Sunlight said.

The top 10 contributors for 2011 were Walmart, Exxon Mobil, Triwest Healthcare Alliance, Chevron, Vanderbilt University, Toyota, Sodexo, Comcast, Coca-Cola and Ohio State University.

Not surprisingly, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was the lawmaker most feted by lobbying interests, followed by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Open for Business

Lobbyists Fred Starzyk, Andy Garfinkel and Bret Cohen have launched a new government affairs shop, Aronnax Public Strategies.

“I’ve known Andy and Fred for years, and they are among the most innovative minds and respected government and public affairs professionals in Washington, D.C.,” said Cohen, president of APS, in a press statement.

APS will focus on federal lobbying, grass-roots organizing, public relations, legislative tracking, grant writing and procurement and association management, among other areas.

Within the next few months, APS will look to expand its in-house team, the firm noted in the press statement.

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