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Appropriations, Trade Policy Keep K Street Swamped

Facebook among companies posting record tabs on federal lobbying

The political and policy uncertainty of the Trump era has continued to fuel business on K Street. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The political and policy uncertainty of the Trump era has continued to fuel business on K Street. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Work on appropriations bills and consternation over new tariffs helped keep K Street in business this year, as the midterm elections begin to cast a shadow over the Capitol.

Some of the biggest spenders on federal lobbying reported a slight dip in what they shelled out during the year’s second quarter versus what they posted during the first quarter. And some multi-client lobbying firms posted flat, or fewer, fees.

But overall, the political and policy uncertainty of the Trump era has continued to fuel business in the swamp, even as campaign season is poised to hit full swing in the coming months. Certain sectors and companies, such as Facebook, posted record tabs for federal lobbying, while Congress put the spotlight on them.

“Contrary to popular perception that not much happens in an election year, we are seeing a very busy Congress in 2018,” said Hunter Bates, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Bates, a co-leader of the public law and policy shop at the city’s biggest practice, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, noted that lawmakers in the House and Senate are working out differences in several appropriations measures that could be signed into law by Sept. 30.

“No one would’ve predicted there would be that much legislative activity in 2018 when everyone was predicting paralysis and partisanship,” he said.

The Trump administration’s agenda to roll back myriad regulations has also spurred client interest, as has opposition to the president’s tariffs, including those for steel and aluminum. Negotiations over changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement also has sparked K Street involvement.

“We’re seeing an enormous amount of activity in the trade space, both on the lobbying and regulatory side,” said Bates, whose firm’s lobbying revenue for the first half of the year was about $19.1 million, down slightly from $19.3 million during the same period last year. “The big question is whether the president can cut deals that allow the tariffs to be lifted or eased or whether Congress is forced to engage.”

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Chamber of lobbying

Trade and tariffs also fueled the lobbying efforts at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which disclosed spending about $43.3 million in the first six months of the year. The chamber and its affiliates disclosed spending less in the second quarter than in the first quarter’s $22.9 million tab. The second quarter lobbying reports cover April 1 to June 30 and were due to the offices of the secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House late Friday night.

“The Chamber’s second-quarter lobbying report reflects critical pillars of the free enterprise system — deregulation and expanding free and fair trade,” Blair Holmes, the group’s spokeswoman, said in an email. “Our advocacy efforts helped bring about passage of major bank relief legislation that rolled back one-size-fits-all regulations and put in place pro-growth policies that give community and regional banks and the business that rely on them a major economic boost.”

She added that the chamber continued its campaign “to educate policymakers about the benefits of expanding free trade rather than using tariffs to address unfair trade practices, and we called upon Congress to pass legislation that would reaffirm its constitutional authority to regulate trade and levy taxes, which includes tariffs.”

The chamber also pressed Congress to pass an immigration overhaul that would protect young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers, as well as securing U.S. borders, Holmes added.

The Business Roundtable, which represents the nation’s leading CEOs, disclosed $5.8 million in lobbying expenses during the second quarter, making for a total of $11.3 million for the first half of 2018, according to the lobbying disclosures. The group reported efforts aimed at influencing tax, health care, immigration and trade policy, including the NAFTA renegotiation.

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Facebook boom

Tech interests also continued to spend heavily on lobbying with Google reporting $10.9 million for the first half of the year and Facebook shelling out $7 million during the first six months of the year.

Facebook posted its highest expenses on lobbying — $3.7 million — during the second quarter, which covered the April testimony of its CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Its previous biggest quarter was this year’s first quarter, when Facebook disclosed spending $3.3 million while the social media company defended itself against concerns over data privacy, fake news and foreign interference in the 2016 elections.

The company has increased staff in its Washington, D.C., outpost. Facebook disclosed that it lobbied the House, Senate, the White House, and the State, Homeland Security and Justice departments on cybersecurity matters including “data security, encryption, platform integrity, and terrorism,” in its second-quarter report. It also disclosed lobbying on immigration and trade matters.

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