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Heritage Action Boosts Lobbying Efforts

Spending in the first three months of 2016 hits an all-time high

Fred Hochberg, chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank, speaks with Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema before a House hearing in June. Heritage Action was a prominent player during the debate on renewing the bank's charter. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Fred Hochberg, chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank, speaks with Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema before a House hearing in June. Heritage Action was a prominent player during the debate on renewing the bank's charter. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Heritage Action for America, the conservative group that often criticizes corporate lobbyists’ agenda in Washington, is increasingly embracing the ways of K Street.  

The lobbying arm of the Heritage Foundation spent the most it has ever reported in a single financial quarter during the first three months of this year.  The $170,000 in spending marked a 143 percent increase from the prior quarter, federal lobbying reports show.  

That might be a pittance compared to the group’s nemesis, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent more than $15 million over the same period. But the activity nonetheless marks a move by Heritage to supplement its grass-roots activists, known as sentinels, with more full-time professional lobbyists on Capitol Hill.  

“One of the things that’s become really apparent, especially as our sentinel program has grown, there was a need to reach out and communicate directly with more offices on the Hill, really the entire Republican conference,” said Dan Holler, vice president of communications and government relations for the group. “Having a direct line to all those offices is extremely important.”  

Heritage has been a prominent player in policy fights, including an ultimately unsuccessful effort to block Congress from renewing the charter of the Export-Import Bank . The U.S. Chamber and other business groups lobbied extensively to revive the export credit agency, finally persuading Congress to renew the bank’s charter in December for another four years.  

The battle pitted Republican big business and conservative factions against each other. But other fights remain, including the one over the House Republican budget plan, which Heritage opposes. The group wants to hold GOP lawmakers to its own oftentimes hardline standards on government spending.  

“As more members of Congress become aware of who their sentinels are and that their constituents are relying on Heritage Action for policy guidance, it helps tremendously to have that echoed when they’re in Washington too,” Holler said. “You frequently have members say and do one thing at home, and then act differently when they get to Washington.”  

Heritage disclosed lobbying on numerous issues in the first quarter, including opposition to lifting sanctions on Iran, tax policy, the Paris climate change agreement and a congressional bailout of debt-laden Puerto Rico.  

Heritage created new federal lobbyist positions this year with an eye toward influencing big policy debates in the next Congress and administration. Its quarterly lobbying in 2015 ranged from $70,000 to $100,000.  

“We felt we needed a larger team,” Holler said. “It’s extremely important when you look to a 2017 when hopefully the political environment will be conducive to pushing good conservative policy solutions.”  

New hires include William Wolfe, a former aide to Reps. Dave Brat, R-Va., and Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and Josh Arnold, a former executive assistant to Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan who chairs the House Freedom Caucus. The group also brought on Alex Vargo, previously a policy engagement associate at Generation Opportunity.  

“These aren’t billable hours for these guys,” Holler said. “They’re walking through from a principled perspective what the various versions of a draft bill would do.”  

Another conservative grass-roots organization, Americans for Prosperity, reported its federal lobbying in the first quarter at $10,000 — the same amount it reported in the fourth quarter of last year and down from the $20,000 it tallied in the first quarter of 2015.  

“AFP maintains a robust scorecard, and our activists are eager to see where their lawmaker stands on economic freedom issues,” said Levi Russell, the group’s director of public affairs. “So it’s important that we have a dialogue with Capitol Hill, and explain how free market policies help every American prosper.”  


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