Lobbying expenditure by sector
October 16, 2011 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Have a look who is coming up on top! Lobbying expenditure in the United States by sector.

Lobbying in the United States targets the United States Senate, the United States House of Representatives, and state legislatures. Lobbyists may also represent their clients' or organizations' interests in dealings with federal, state, or local executive branch agencies or the courts. Lobby groups and their members sometimes also write legislation and whip bills. As of 2007 there are over 17,000 federal lobbyists based in Washington, DC.
posted by Surfin' Bird (40 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Who's on top? Finance/Insur/RealEst.

Funny that. I expected it to be all those deadbeat liberals who lobbied the government to force the banks to give poor people loans they could not afford. It wasn't the bankers' fault that they earned all those transaction fees. It was lobbying by liberal groups. Right?

I mean look at how much money the banks had to spend to try and get government not to do this.
posted by three blind mice at 8:59 AM on October 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


17,000 lobbyists in DC and just about 20,000 people showed up to Times Square last night.

We are losing.
posted by empath at 9:02 AM on October 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


It's been said that every person who writes a letter to a politician represents the views of about 500 voters; every person who goes to a protest at least a thousand. So I wouldn't call this losing.

What needs to change is the notion of the other 999 that the things which matter to them intellectually are somehow, at the end of the day, not worth showing up for.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:09 AM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's kind of a flaw in the way this is set up. Health should be #1 if you accept that health insurance companies ought to go into the health category. Just going through and picking out companies I know are exclusively health insurance, I came up with ≈15 million in about 30 seconds. Unless of course you make the argument that health insurance companies are all about getting laws in place to reduce access to health care. In that case, carry on.

I was shocked that there was no entry for Genentech in the health sector when every other pharma company I could think of (and a bunch I've never heard of) was there. I was just about to send of a resume and then I remembered, "Oh yeah, Roche."
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:23 AM on October 16, 2011


Lobbying by itself is not a bad thing. It's an essential part of our democracy. The problem is that it's clearly got twisted by specially interests unloading shitloads of money into it.
posted by Surfin' Bird at 9:24 AM on October 16, 2011


How is lobbying an essential part of anyone's democracy?
posted by aychedee at 9:34 AM on October 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


3 quick observations:

1) List seems to sort by how much gov't regulation is involved: FIRE and pharma have more regulation than say labor or construction (at least since 1998).
2) Ideology/Single issue is lower down the list than I would have thought.
3) Lawyers and lobbyists are last!
posted by acheekymonkey at 9:36 AM on October 16, 2011


Who's on top? Finance/Insur/RealEst.

I think this Sunlight Foundation site has a graphical interface for exploring who is giving and receiving money by industry: Finance / Insurance / Real Estate / Other industries
posted by Staggering Jack at 9:40 AM on October 16, 2011


My heart really sank when I saw the order of magnitude of those numbers.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:41 AM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


How is lobbying an essential part of anyone's democracy?

Scale. It is not physically possible for every person to have a personal relationship with their political candidate, contrary to the "guy/gal-you-can-have-a-beer-with" image courted by many politicians. As a result, getting crap done involves nominating people to interface with politicians.

This is whether you're a grass roots organization trying to get protection regulations put into place to save the marmoset, or a company trying to negotiate looser regulations for your industry.

Of course as we structure it right now, politicians are a little to easily able to pretend that they are not sway-able by people their voters find reprehensible, but a lot of work has gone into trying to regulate and expose what lobbying efforts are being made, for example this piece of date in the post. There's a lot of problems, and it's not so much inherent in democracy as in having concentrated power in the hands of a few (kings and queens also get lobbied) but nobody has a better, real world solution as of yet.
posted by Phalene at 9:50 AM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also I think that known criminals should be banned from lobbying. Corporations are people, right? So try BP and Halliburton for murder.
posted by Surfin' Bird at 9:50 AM on October 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


How is lobbying an essential part of anyone's democracy?

Lobbying is educating an official on an issue. Politicians need to be educated on issues because they have to know a good deal about a great many topics.

Lobbying isn't some great evil. Whenever a group of students visit the capital to ask for improvement funding for their school, that is lobbying. When I went to Albany several years ago to ask for the right to get married, that was lobbying.

But man, there sure are a lot of assholes with a lot of money from assholes who lobby for asshole issues. So, I appreciate your frustration at what lobbying effectively is now a days.
posted by munchingzombie at 9:52 AM on October 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


So democracy requires lobbyists to function? Who sold you that line of crap. The lobbyists for lobbyists?

Thank god it hasn't been normalised in other countries. Seriously, in the UK bribery like this is seized upon as scandal and ends political careers or is investigated criminally.

To root this kind of shit out you have to at least begin by de-normalising it in your own heads. You should never conflate concerned citizens writing letters or phoning politicians with 17,000 full time bribery facilitators.

Other countries solve this problem by taking the money out of politics. They institute laws that make it illegal to bribe politicians and then they enforce those laws.
posted by aychedee at 10:15 AM on October 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


So democracy requires lobbyists to function? Who sold you that line of crap. The lobbyists for lobbyists?

The alternative is to have politicians cloistered away without any contact with anyone.

It is very easy to have both small grassroots groups and individuals and big-money K-street organizations both fall under the term lobbying. I know that one is essential to democracy and the other is using money to buy votes. In much the same way both cows and babies are made of meat but I know I am only allowed to eat from one and not the other.

You correctly identify the problem as money. Deal with the money. Not with lobbying. Otherwise I will dearly miss writing my elected officials.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:33 AM on October 16, 2011


Interesting that Lawyers & Lobbyists spent $366M, perhaps mostly spent lobbying against campaign finance reform. Yes, it's far less than the other listed sectors, but the political class is this sector. I'd imagine every dollar here counts vastly more.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:56 AM on October 16, 2011


So democracy requires lobbyists to function? Who sold you that line of crap. The lobbyists for lobbyists?

The alternative is to have politicians cloistered away without any contact with anyone.


BUZZZ! False dichotomy, munchingzombie; 5 yard penalty.

ONE of the alternatives is to have politicians understand that it is their duty to research* and understand the issues, without having a single-sided viewpoint spoon-fed to them by special interests. (*Their staff, in actuality.)

Another is to rely largely on open committee meetings with the public and corporate interests given a chance to present their cases.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:57 AM on October 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm confused because I saw a similar list about a year ago, and it looked much different. Labor, education, auto, and agriculture were at the top (if I remember correctly.)
posted by gyp casino at 11:08 AM on October 16, 2011


ONE of the alternatives is to have politicians understand that it is their duty to research* and understand the issues, without having a single-sided viewpoint spoon-fed to them by special interests.

Have you ever worked in a legislative office? Even at a local level officials need to know so much about many things. It is impossible for most of them to even have a basic understanding of all the topics that will be presented to them. If I recall an agenda from your average semi-weekly session at the city level, to make an informed decision on each item one would have to have an understanding of urban design, economics, budgeting, land-use, traffic engineering, health insurance, the negotiated contracts with a dozen or so unions, the input from a hundred block clubs, and so on... It really is staggering the amount of information you need. And yes, their staff does a lot of that but there is no way to get a staff that qualified in that number of fields and have time to make policy briefs on each. And still, this is just at the local level. Even with more staff and resources Congressmembers can't keep up.

Another is to rely largely on open committee meetings with the public and corporate interests given a chance to present their cases.

This happens. It is called a public hearing. It is a great way to confirm what everyone knows already about everyone present. Then there is the townhall meeting. These are all nice, but it is unrealistic to think you can get a room full of people to each educate an official on complex issues. Having staffed elected officials at such meetings simple topics still take 15-30 minutes. Want to talk about how a hospital expansion will change a community though? Try keeping a room full of people for the 3-4 hours that will take.


Lobbying needs reform, as I have said. For one, an independent body charged with investigating corruption. Campaign finance reform is another. But you cannot tell me that it is unethical or undemocratic for an elected official to talk to people they are elected to represent about issues that concern them. That is lobbying. The real evil is the money. Take care of the money.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:27 AM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Thank god it hasn't been normalised in other countries. Seriously, in the UK bribery like this is seized upon as scandal and ends political careers or is investigated criminally."

The very word lobbying comes from the U.K. (buttonholing pols in the lobbies of parliament to encourage them to vote your way), and the U.K. has a £1.9 billion lobbying industry employing 14,000 people.

It's really the campaign financing that's the problem, not the lobbying itself. As a local office holder I get lobbied AND I belong to lobbies (state school board association that lobbies the state and feds; national school board association that lobbies the feds; various more general school associations that don't pertain just to the boards).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:35 AM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's important to know where those numbers come from. The formula the LD-2 uses is whackadoo and doesn't in any way represent real expenditures-it's only interesting in examining the difference in amounts between companies AND the differences in individual companies over time-but the actual number is totally meaningless.
The basic formula involved calculating the time of internal registered lobbyists [and anyone who's worked on things like issue statements or white papers to be used in lobbying], spent lobbying, preparing for lobbying, time spent traveling to/from locations to lobby, sitting in trade association meetings about legislation etc-pro rated to salaries. You multiply this amount by [1.5? I don't remember], to account for overhead and support staff.
And then, you add up all expenses, divide by the number in your group (including support staff) and add that in. You also add in the amount any outside lobbyists are reporting [which is a rounded number youpaid them for the quarter. Finally, you add in the amount, paid in that quarter, you spent on memberships to trade associations that lobby [you only report the percentage that association spends on lobbying, not the entire membership].
My point is that this number is weird, and doesn't show anything real.
It's not money given to politicians [lobbyists can pay for shit anyway, and donations from a company's PAC, etc are reporting semi-annually on the LD-203]. It sort of shows how much companies pay their employees that lobby or take meetings, and how big their outside lobbyist contracts are, but not in any meaningful way. And since you report the trade association dues in the quarter you paid them, you'll see relatively large fluctuations from quarter to quarter.
It's a meaningless number and tells you little about what companies are actually doing on the hill, except in relation to each other.
posted by atomicstone at 11:35 AM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, if I wasn't clear-these numbers are mostly the amount of money paid to internal employees and external lobbyists to lobby the executive and legislative branches-these aren't transfers of $ to pols.
posted by atomicstone at 11:36 AM on October 16, 2011


^^^That doesn't make the problem look any better. Just having someone lobbying for you 24 hours 365 days every year is already an unfair advantage over other people / businesses.
posted by Surfin' Bird at 11:55 AM on October 16, 2011


The problem is not lobbying--that's just a word that means talking to representatives about issues. It's the Lobbying Industry, and in particular, the mercenary lobbyists--those lobbyists who command large sums from any interest to lobby on any issue just because they have "access" and "influence."

True issues lobbyists--real people who care about issues and work to inform their representatives--are invaluable to democracy.

Highly paid "influence" and "access" peddlers (or mercenary lobbyists, as I prefer to think of them) are toxic and corrosive to it.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:58 AM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


It is not physically possible for every person to have a personal relationship with their political candidate

A "personal relationship", no, perhaps not. Is it possible for every person to be able to contact their political representative's office, to make their views known? Absolutely. Is it possible for a representative to poll all the people in their district? Absolutely yes. The technology to do these things already exists; it just hasn't been implemented intelligently in politics yet. As Paul Ford notes in an essay that has been linked to here before, the fundamental question of the internet is "why wasn't I consulted" and there's no area in which people care more about being consulted, feeling represented, than government; the political system just hasn't caught up to the available technology yet.

Likewise, the Internet has made "educating" oneself (or one's boss, the Senator) about all the different issues you/they need to be informed about easier than ever. You can sift through a dozen different articles on the Internet in the time it takes one lobbyist to take you out to lunch and tell you all about awesome new industry X, and you don't have the skirting-the-edge-of-what's-technically-bribery ultra-expensive lunch to worry about, either.

In short: if there's anything about the future I'm looking forward to, the day that the Internet puts the Lobbying Industry out of business is high on that list. The current generation of (mostly old, technologically not-very-savvy) politicians will have to go first, though.
posted by mstokes650 at 1:03 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


"and you don't have the skirting-the-edge-of-what's-technically-bribery ultra-expensive lunch to worry about, either."

That's not skirting the edge-lobbyists can't take a staffer or Congressman out for lunch, expensive or otherwise.
posted by atomicstone at 1:40 PM on October 16, 2011


"Lobbying is educating an official on an issue."

Yeah. And advertising is a source of perfect information on price and quality.
posted by Pinback at 1:56 PM on October 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


Hmm: at my mother's last job, she was allowed to educate politicians, but was specifically prohibited from lobbying.

My understanding is that lobbying involves requesting that the politicians do something specific or vote a certain way. The line between that and merely presenting information is often blurred in our current age of advertising, but there is in fact a distinction that can be made between the two activities.
posted by eviemath at 2:31 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's a lot of problems, and it's not so much inherent in democracy as in having concentrated power in the hands of a few (kings and queens also get lobbied) but nobody has a better, real world solution as of yet.

Since "better real world solutions" only appear in hindsight, not having one "as of yet" is unimportant.
posted by carping demon at 2:41 PM on October 16, 2011


This is a great resource, but it omits what I believe to be the most dangerous form of lobbying: favors that are paid back after the politician or bureaucrat leaves office. It's an open secret that many committee and advisory positions are effectively pension plans for helpful individuals.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:43 PM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


How is lobbying an essential part of anyone's democracy?

It's representatives all the way down
posted by AndrewKemendo at 4:24 PM on October 16, 2011


Lobbyists Jack Abramoff got four years for bribing members of congress.

Congressman Bob Ney got two and a half years for taking the bribe.

I'm sure there's a good reason for this, and I'm hoping the doco will tell me what it is.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:53 PM on October 16, 2011


The alternative is to have politicians cloistered away without any contact with anyone.

That is almost breath-takingly untrue, and a depressing reminder of how endemic corruption has become to our political process. As pointed out above, ministers (in westminster systems) are tasked with understanding their portfolios. Naturally this involves meeting and researching many things, but the problem is MPs are getting spoonfed by lobbyists.

Further, in Australia senate committees - especially senate estimates committees are great places for getting into the detail, and industry reps are more than welcome to attend.

I'm happy for lobbying to continue, but I feel a huge issue is disclosure. All interaction between lobbyists and politicians should be public and documented, and more of it should go through government departments in my opinion (they would hate it, no doubt, seeing it correctly as largely a waste of rent-seeking time, but they are the best equipped to assess and analyse the claims lobbyists make).

Also, I would be almost unbearably happy if campaign donations were banned. I realise this would - especially in the US - seismically shift current campaign models. I view that wholly as a good thing.

If lobbying didn't work, if donations didn't work, big companies would not spend millions of dollars on it. Unfortunately, it's often great bang-for-buck.
posted by smoke at 6:08 PM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


One of the alternatives is to have politicians understand that it is their duty to research...

Another is to rely largely on open committee meetings with the public and corporate interests given a chance to present their cases.

Both cases are going to boil down to a type of lobbying where a large, well moneyed corporation is going to be able to get their message out in an organized, professional way and, if they choose, rile up the masses so they show up at town hall meetings screeching about the death panels and how if Stephen Hawking had been born in the UK they'd have more or less euthanized him!

If you think petitioning the government is a bad thing then you've got to carve on the first amendment pretty hard. Which puts us back to looking at the giant bags of money that seem to fly in tight formation with petitioning the government.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:52 PM on October 16, 2011


Voters petitioning their government is one thing.

But allowing some well-heeled voters to hire armies of full-time, career "government petitioners" who work relentlessly on behalf of whoever can pay them the most and who broker side deals between elected representatives and their employers to reward those representatives for delivering desired votes in their post-legislative careers is not in any credibly sense what "petitioning the government" means.

Especially not when, all the while, those well-heeled voters are making it harder and harder for less well-heeled voters to participate in the process by demanding more of their time for labor and, in some cases, implicitly threatening them with economic consequences for political activity that might be construed as counter to the business interests of their employers.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:26 AM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


This site is neat, though I wish it had more detail. I want to know who the lobbyists are, what they are lobbying for and who they are lobbying to. Its nice to know what firms and companies are involved, but the devil, as they say, is in the details.

I'm trying to do exactly that with a site that I (and 3 other opengov nerds) created a few months ago: ChicagoLobbyists.org. Right now we only have data from Chicago, but the template could be expanded as other cities/municipalities release their lobbyist data.

What's powerful about it is you can see every action a lobbyist has made and to which government agency. Furthermore, you can see how much the lobbyists were paid and who paid them.
posted by kakarott999 at 11:43 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I keep hearing how the lobbying industry is essential to our system.

But to this I respond, our system is broken. Badly in some cases. And while I personally have never lived in a world without lobbyists, I think I'd be willing to give it a try.

Reform should be the name of the game, and since we can't outright ban the idea of lobbying (and I've seen some moderately compelling reasons as to why we might not want to), I would love to see the money component completely removed.

Lobbyists could provide no money in any form to politicians. None. No dinners, no business trips, no post-office job offers, nothing. They could plead their case and that's it. If it wasn't compelling enough to stand on its own then it wouldn't pass. Because at this point, money flowing into the hands of the politicians is easily one of the biggest problems our country suffers from. And no meaningful changes will ever take place to the many broken parts until someone addresses this obvious fact.
posted by quin at 2:48 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it possible for every person to be able to contact their political representative's office, to make their views known?

Yes, but in that case the politician is merely employing lobbyists on the public's behalf to read his or her mail. The act of contacting a politician of any system, to try to get them to do something, is lobbying. This is one of the reason's why Harper's attack on Stats Canada was such a bad thing in my country- one of the checks on private lobbying in the stuff that civil servants drag out in front of politicians, something that they need a crap ton of public data for.
posted by Phalene at 5:15 AM on October 18, 2011


I keep hearing how the lobbying industry is essential to our system.

I find this thread really odd. I don't think anyone has been less than critical of the lobbying industry. Some people have been supportive of lobbying, in general, but not k-street.

It makes me think that individuals are either not lobbying their elected officials or don't know that they lobby their elected officials. In the case of the latter, you are. In the former, we don't have a million dollars to beat out those lobbyists who subvert our democracy with dirty money. But we do have millions of you to take a few minutes to lobby their elected officials on issues that are important.
posted by munchingzombie at 9:38 AM on October 18, 2011


"Lobbyists could provide no money in any form to politicians. None. No dinners, no business trips, no post-office job offers, nothing. They could plead their case and that's it. If it wasn't compelling enough to stand on its own then it wouldn't pass. Because at this point, money flowing into the hands of the politicians is easily one of the biggest problems our country suffers from. And no meaningful changes will ever take place to the many broken parts until someone addresses this obvious fact."

But almost all of that is currently true in the US. The job offer thing is allowed, but with lots of disclosures and some time-out.
Your problem with the money isn't the lobbyists providing it-because they can't. They can't give gifts, meals, trips, etc.
And the few things/ways/loopholes that allow some of this have to be reported.
posted by atomicstone at 10:43 AM on October 18, 2011




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