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Surge of lobbying activity fueled K Street in late 2021

Lobbyists expect less lawmaking, more executive action in 2022

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, appears before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing on "Holding Big Tech Accountable" on Dec. 1.
Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, appears before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing on "Holding Big Tech Accountable" on Dec. 1. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Intense lobbying battles over a bipartisan infrastructure measure and President Joe Biden’s stalled spending and tax package propelled a surge among most of K Street’s biggest spenders and record revenue from top firms last year, new disclosures show. 

Lobbyists say they expect a slower pace of legislative activity later this year, as the midterm elections cast a shadow over Capitol Hill. But many predict an uptick in regulatory and executive branch matters in the second year of the Biden administration.  

The 10 biggest players in federal lobbying — from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, to the American Chemistry Council — disclosed shelling out $278.2 million in 2021 as they navigated Democrats’ proposed corporate tax increases to help pay for a major social spending package. Lobbying disclosure reports covering the fourth quarter of last year were due to the House and Senate Thursday. 

The chamber still ranked No. 1, but its $64.8 million total last year — a time its leadership was changing and it had taken heat for its support of some Democratic candidates in 2020 — was down from $76.1 million that year and $93.9 million in 2019.

Business interests also helped prod along a bipartisan infrastructure law to House passage in November, after it was ensnared in the fight over Biden’s spending and tax package.

Many of Washington’s biggest lobbying practices said they had posted revenue totals that exceeded previous years with a particular surge coming at the end of last year when Democrats were trying to smooth over intraparty disagreement over the social spending and tax measure. 

“It increased the amount of tension in Washington to an almost historic intensity,” said Marc Lampkin, managing partner of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s Washington office.

His firm reported collecting just under $16 million in lobbying fees in last year’s fourth quarter alone. The firm hauled in $56.3 million in federal lobbying revenue for the full year, an increase of about 14 percent from the prior year and the most of any other K Street firm. 

COVID-19 relief matters also helped drive the business, Lampkin said. But nothing was quite as big a priority for companies as the proposed tax increases to fund Democrats’ social policy agenda. 

“We had lots of clients and industry cohorts who wanted to articulate the implications for what was being considered for their particular company or sector,” Lampkin said.  

He anticipates this year will see more executive branch regulatory work, including the implementation of the infrastructure law, along with congressional oversight activity. He expects legislative productivity on the Hill will taper off, however, as lawmakers become increasingly focused on the midterm campaigns. 

Big spending

Tech companies Meta, the new name for Facebook, and Amazon increased their spending over last year to post never-before totals in 2021. Topics that Meta’s lobbyists focused on included the annual defense authorization bill, technology privacy matters and the now-beleaguered social spending and tax measure dubbed Build Back Better. 

The company also came in for bipartisan attacks in the fourth quarter when a former employee testified at hearings about how Instagram was marketed toward children despite research showing it posed a potential harm to teenage users.

The American Chemistry Council disclosed its highest annual spending ever, with more than $7.3 million spent in the final three months of the year alone. Anne Kolton, a spokesperson for the group, said lobbyists were working on a range of issues including the defense authorization measure, proposed tax increases and the infrastructure bill.   

“We spent a lot of time on the Hill fighting the reimposition of the Superfund tax,” Kolton said, referring to a levy on chemical companies dedicated to cleaning up hazardous waste sites. 

The chemistry council supported climate proposals in the Build Back Better package but fought against tax increases.   

“It was a mix of challenges and opportunities,” she said.  

The drug industry’s chief lobbying group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, as well as the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association, continued to be among the biggest spenders on lobbying, as the federal government grappled with the pandemic. 

What’s next?

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld reported $53.4 million in federal lobbying revenue for 2021, an increase of almost 8 percent from 2020. A partner with the Brian Pomper, said he expects growth in Akin Gump’s health policy team including “an intense focus on the reauthorization of user fee programs for the pharmaceutical and medical device industries,” among other matters. 

Rich Gold, who leads the lobbying practice at Holland & Knight, which brought in about $35 million in reportable lobbying fees in 2021, said the issues ranged from COVID-19 relief matters to the social spending and tax measure. 

K&L Gates also reported an increase in lobby revenue, with $21.1 million for 2021, 14 percent more than the previous year, and with $5.8 million coming in the fourth quarter alone.   

“I think what has shifted is we’ve seen a reestablishment of government in business,” said Karishma Shah Page, a partner in K&L Gates’ lobbying group. “As we really look ahead, we see that it is going to continue to be another busy year. There’s a continuation of much of the debate we had last year.”

Along with implementing regulations in the infrastructure law, Page said she expects the executive branch to try to move on policies that can’t get through Congress.

“We’re expecting another very active agenda,” she said.