Lobbyists Turn to Lame Duck, Next Congress for Business

Some major interest groups dialed back on spending in third quarter

Large lobbying outfits are hoping a new administration and Congress will bring opportunities in the areas of tax policy, immigration and infrastructure.
Large lobbying outfits are hoping a new administration and Congress will bring opportunities in the areas of tax policy, immigration and infrastructure.
Posted October 24, 2016 at 11:53am

Many big-money lobbying clients, and the firms they retain, posted a decline in fees during the third quarter, as Congress hit the road for a long summer stretch to campaign. With lawmakers still on the trail, lobbyists say they’ve pinned their hopes on the lame-duck session and 2017.

When lawmakers return after the election, they must move to fund the government beyond Dec. 9, when the current stopgap measure lapses. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he also wants to push along a bill that would expand funding for medical research. Both will be major year-end priorities for K Street interests.

But the extended breaks in legislating, by lawmakers who are eager to keep their jobs, have squeezed some of the lobbying sector’s biggest spenders, according to recently filed congressional lobbying disclosures that covered July through September. The reports were due by midnight Thursday.

Major groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Medical Association, reported spending fewer dollars in the third quarter than earlier this year — while others held steady. A notable exception was the National Association of Realtors, which boosted its lobby tab in the third quarter by more than 150 percent when compared with the previous quarter. Even that spending, however, has more to do with influencing the election than lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“The figures reported in our lobbying disclosure include federal, state and local campaign activities, and therefore tend to be cyclical in nature,” said Jon Boughtin, a spokesman for the Realtors lobby, noting that it includes spending that is not required under the lobbying disclosure law. “Given that this is an election year, it’s no surprise that the numbers have risen.”

The chamber, including its affiliate Institute for Legal Reform, dropped slightly between this year’s second and third quarters from $29.3 million to $26.7 million, lobbying disclosures showed. It’s third-quarter tab was an increase over the $21.1 million reported for the same period last year.

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The chamber’s recent third-quarter report covers money spent on its voter education program and other efforts to support “pro-business candidates,” said Blair Latoff Holmes, executive director for media relations at the chamber.

“As you know, there are not many legislative days in the lame-duck session, so we’re going to have to see what comes up,” added Holmes in an email. “The first priority will be a spending bill.”

She noted that the business organization will continue to advocate for the trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, though its chances of passage in a lame-duck are slim. Both presidential contenders — Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton — have said they oppose the TPP, hurting the pact’s prospects into the new year.

Other top spenders that reported a decline in lobbying dollars included the Business Roundtable, a group representing top executives at leading U.S. companies. The organization reported spending $3.5 million in the third quarter, down from $4.8 million in the second quarter and down from $3.6 million for the same period last year. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America disclosed $4.1 million in the third quarter — down from the second quarter’s $5.8 million and down slightly from last year.

Some of D.C.’s largest lobbying outfits reported a decline in fees during the third quarter, including the biggest shop, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, whose revenue fell to $8.5 million, down from the second quarter’s $9.6 million and $9.7 million for the same period last year.

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the second largest lobbying practice, reported $6.4 million in federal lobbying fees, a decline over the year previous quarters when it disclosed bringing in $6.7 million each but a slight increase over its third quarter receipts for 2015.

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“We anticipate the many opportunities presented with a new Congress and administration and will continue to focus on key areas like tax reform, infrastructure and immigration,” said the firm’s Marc Lampkin, who noted that his shop had added new clients in the third quarter, such as the Navajo Nation and the Coalition for Small Business Growth.

Some of the main drivers of business on K Street in the third quarter included appropriations and budget matters. More than 3,500 groups and firms, including AT&T and the Boeing Co., disclosed working to influence the appropriations process in the third quarter, as lawmakers wrapped up a short-term patch in September. Budget work attracted more than 1,000 lobbying interests including the Business Roundtable and the chamber, lobbying records show.

Even though Congress did not even attempt a major overhaul of tax law this year, lobbyists still disclosed pressing the issue — more than 2,500 clients and firms reported working on tax matters.

Lobbyists said that even as Congress remains on break, clients are eager to position their issues for the lame-duck session and for 2017.

“If you have a client that is interested in what’s going to happen on tax reform, you better be thinking about that now and doing things now,” said Dan Tate of the bipartisan lobby firm Forbes Tate Partners. If lawmakers knock off smaller tax issues during the lame-duck, he noted, that could “impact what happens right out of the box in 2017.”

Tate’s firm has seen an increase in business so far this year, he said, reporting $7.1 million in lobbying fees compared with $6.6 million in the first three quarters of 2015.

“All this year it’s been unusual because the activity on the Hill has been less,” said Tate, who met his business partner, Jeff Forbes, when the two worked in the White House’s legislative affairs shop during the Clinton administration. “Depending on what happens on [Election Day], everything might be thrown up in the air. It’s more about how you game out options to make sure that your folks are ready.”

Potential good news for K Street, Tate noted, is that if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, she is likely to “be more engaged on the Hill and more focused on bringing along the Congress than perhaps the last administration has been.”