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The Troubling Influence of Corporate Money

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #38 | By: Abigail Hunt | September 24, 2022

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Influencing the government has become a multibillion-dollar business, with companies and trade associations hiring lobbyists and attorneys to push their agenda and shape policymaking.

Photo taken from: Getty Images

Lobbying is as necessary as it is corruptive. The origin of the word lies in the earliest version of lobbyists – men who stood in the lobby of a legislative building to catch government representatives in order to plea their cause. 

To lobby is to appeal to a government official on behalf of a person or organization. There are different types of lobbying. Grassroots lobbying employs the influence of the voting public to encourage legislators to make changes, while direct lobbying is considered outspoken communication with a member of the legislative government. 

In the U.S., each state has its own definition of lobbying and its own guidelines for registration and reporting requirements. State lobbying laws laws are not just nuanced, they are muddled; Texas, for example, only requires lobbyists to register once they have received a certain amount of money in exchange for their services.

Although legislation to re-affirm limits on lobbying is passed each year, the laws are paper-tiger limitations that in reality have no teeth. The last legislation to limit lobbying—the Lobbying Disclosure Act– was passed in 1995. The Act provides for the disclosure of lobbying activities to influence the Federal Government. It requires lobbyists to register and to report income over a certain amount and to file a report regarding each of their clients, including how much money they were paid by them for lobbying services. 

However, lobbyists find ways to get around the provisions of the Lobbying Disclosure Act – by keeping contributions under different names or certain amounts and percentages, those involved in lobbying can skirt registration while complying with the law. It has been more than a quarter century since any new federal legislation, dealing with loopholes in existing law, has been passed.

RepresentUs is a nonpartisan organization that fights corruption in politics.

The American Anti-Corruption Act (AACA), provides a list of 14 provisions to combat conflicts of interest and political bribery. Developed by RepresentUs, the AACA has been a framework  for federal and state lobbying legislation, used to draft anti-lobbying legislation on the local and state level across the country. Per the RepresentUs website, the AACA has been used in legislation in 161 municipalities across the country, but we still have a long way to go. 

According to the independent and nonpartisan nonprofit OpenSecrets.org – which tracks money in politics – from 1998 to 2022, lobbyists spent more than $80 billion. Just the top 10 entities that spent the most to influence politics during that time paid out more than $7. 8 billion. The top ten contributors, their spending totals, and the industries associated are as follows: 

 

US Chamber of Commerce $1.7 billion Business Associations
National Association of Realtors $742.5 million Real Estate
American Hospital Association $480 million Hospitals/Nursing Homes
American Medical Association $473.5 million Health Professionals
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America $464.8 million Pharmaceuticals/Health Products
Blue Cross/Blue Shield $435.7 million Insurance and Health Services/HMOs
General Electric $378.7 million Oil & Gas, Pharmaceuticals/Health Products, Air Transport, Railroads, Misc Manufacturing & Distributing
Business Roundtable $359.3 million Business Associations
Boeing Co. $320.8 million Air Transport
Northrop Grumman $315.3 million Defense Aerospace, Sea Transport

OpenSecrets tracks more than money – it tracks the people, corporations, and influence behind the money. In another section on their website titled Revolving Door, there are 460 former members of Congress listed who are now working as lobbyists. The Congressional committees with the greatest number of employees who have gone to work with special interest groups or came from special interest groups into politics are as follows:

Senate Finance 222
House Ways & Means 217
Senate Judiciary 179
Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions 178
House Energy & Commerce 171
House Appropriations 164
Senate Appropriations 153
Senate Commerce, Science, & Transporation 152
House Government Reform 145
Senate Governmental Affairs 139

Per Open Secrets’ tally for the 2022 election cycle, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer received more from just lobbyists than any other member of Congress to the tune of $711,742. Second in line is Republican Senator Kevin McCarthy with a total – so far – at $477,236. 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has received $2.2 million so far this year from lobbyists; likewise, also in 2022,  the National Republican Senatorial Committee has accepted $1.9 million and change in payouts from lobbyists. The national Democratic and Republican Congressional campaign committees accepted $1.3 million and $1.4 million respectively.

The interests of the majority will never be prioritized by our representatives as long as they are in corporations’ pockets. If we do not make sweeping changes limiting lobbyists’ influence, our voices will continue to fade into the background, no matter how we clamor. 

Infographics taken from: Represent.us

(click or tap to enlargen)

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

Open Secrets, a nonpartisan nonprofit independent research group tracking money in U.S. politics. The site was founded in 1996 by the Center for Responsive Politics and is now the leading provider of information on money in politics.

Public Citizen, founded in 1971, has half a million members across the country. It is a non-profit independent organization unaffiliated with either party and not beholden to any entity for financial reasons. Public Citizen is a voice for the people, and the people alone.

RepresentUs, founded in 2012, is a leading, nonpartisan organization advocating for pro-democracy and fighting corruption in politics. The organization has won 161 victories for democracy across the country since its inception. Article on lobbying. https://represent.us/action/is-lobbying-good-or-bad/

Writer's Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 

Duke Health Government Relations. “Lobbying Definitions, Exceptions, and Examples.” 2022.

https://govrelations.duke.edu/ethics-and-compliance/lobbying-definitions-exceptions-and-examples. Accessed September 21, 2022. 

Open Secrets, Following the Money in Politics. “Top Recipients of Contributions from Lobbyists, 2022 Cycle.” 2022. https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/top-recipients. Accessed September 21, 2022. 

Quist P. et al. “Layers of Lobbying: Federal and state lobbying trends in spending, representation and messaging.” June 2, 2022. https://www.opensecrets.org/news/reports/layers-of-lobbying. Accessed September 25, 2022. 

Quiner, Mark. “How States Define Lobbying and Lobbyist.” National Conference of State Legislators. September 3, 2021. https://www.ncsl.org/research/ethics/50-state-chart-lobby-definitions.aspx. Accessed September 21, 2022. 

RepresentUs. The American Anti-Corruption Act. https://anticorruptionact.org/whats-in-the-act/. Accessed September 21, 2022.

Senate Office of Public Records. “Lobbying Disclosure Act Guidance.” February 28, 2021.   https://lobbyingdisclosure.house.gov/ldaguidance.pdf. Accessed September 27, 2022. 

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