Associations with largest advocacy checkbooks spent 3 percent more as some make heavy election pushes while others focus on off years.
Feb. 1, 2019
By William Ehart
Lobbying expenditures by 100 of the biggest-spending associations rose nearly 3 percent in 2018, with some associations ramping up to influence the midterm elections and others keeping their powder dry to focus on legislation in 2019.
In total, these 100 trade groups and professional societies reported spending more than $636 million in 2018, compared with about $618 million in 2017. (See list of organizations and what they reported spending.)
CEO Update takes an annual look at what associations spent on lobbying the previous year, using quarterly reports organizations must file with the House and Senate. Forms for the final quarter of 2018 were due Jan. 22. Fourth quarter information for a few high-spending associations still was unavailable as of Jan. 30.
Among groups substantially increasing spending was the $10 million-revenue News Media Alliance, with a 42 percent jump to $1.8 million that propelled it into the top 100. The extra expenditures were not related to the election cycle but to threats to the news-gathering and dissemination business model.
NMA CEO David Chavern said the group, which still largely represents newspaper publishers though it is expanding into digital news sites, traditionally had relied on members’ editorial voices to influence policymakers more than lobbying. In addition, the industry faced relatively few regulatory obstacles in the past.
But members last year rallied to confront severe challenges in both the new media and old media spheres: the Trump administration’s 35 percent tariff on Canadian newsprint and the dominance of social media companies like Google and Facebook over the news industry.
“We’ve been ramping up across the board and we’ve got some good internal (advocacy) assets and also a number of external firms we use,” Chavern said.
NMA and other affected associations successfully banded together to get the tariff terminated by the International Trade Commission last summer.
“It really showed the industry how it could come together and advocate for itself, which it hadn’t done for a long time. It’s a good example that we can build upon … (but) it took a lot of effort and resources on our part,” Chavern said.
The online challenge also is existential to the news business, he said. Currently, media outlets are prohibited by antitrust law from collectively negotiating terms with Google and Facebook on reimbursements for user clicks.
NMA is seeking legislation to allow a collective approach.
To fund the extra lobbying, NMA largely tapped its ample financial reserves, Chavern said. At a current level of $18 million, those reserves are nearly twice the group’s revenue.
Focusing on legislative activity
The $65 million-revenue National Retail Federation is among many groups that increase spending in the year after an election, when legislative activity heats up, and spend less in other years, said chief lobbyist David French.
“Probably most groups have a heavier tempo of spending the first year after the election and tail off in the second year,” he said.
Reported lobbying by NRF fell 38 percent to under $8 million in 2018. In the previous year, retailers had been busy advocating for a tax overhaul and beating back a Border Adjustment Tax that had support in the Republican-controlled House.
“In 2017, we had the BAT tax and tax reform at the same time,” French told CEO Update. “We had a pretty heavy amount of spending throughout the year.
“In early 2018 we weren’t spending as much but by the second half we were spending more, especially (fighting tariffs),” he said.
That pace will continue in 2019.
“This year we still are working on tariffs and regulatory issues. It will not be a slow year,” he said.
NRF’s spending mostly is in the form of direct lobbying and grassroots efforts, he said, with some digital media as well.
Chamber, NAR diverge
The perennial top-spender, the $253 million-revenue U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its $41 million-revenue Institute for Legal Reform, spent 15 percent more last year than in 2017. The second top-spender, the $238 million-revenue National Association of Realtors, spent 34 percent more.
Both organizations report election spending as part of their lobbying disclosures to Congress, so the increases in 2018 are to be expected.
However, the Chamber and its legal advocacy arm actually spent 9 percent less ($94 million) in last year’s midterms than it spent during the 2016 presidential race ($103 million). NAR spent $73 million in 2018, 12 percent more than in 2016.
NAR Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Shannon McGahn said the organization considers political spending on a candidate-by-candidate basis, but added that top priorities include long-term flood-insurance reauthorization, infrastructure spending, housing finance reform and “a tax code that incentivizes and promotes home ownership in America.”
On that last point, NAR suffered a blow in the 2017 tax overhaul, which placed limits on mortgage-interest deductibility.
The biggest increase in lobby spending among the top 100 was by the $7.2 million-revenue Internet Association, where expenditures rose 117 percent to $2.6 million. The group did not respond to requests for comment.
The largest decrease was from the $31 million-revenue National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts, where spending dropped 47 percent to $2.7 million. However, that latter figure is more in line with its historical spending on lobbying.
ASSOCIATION SPENDING ON LOBBYING IN 2018
CEO Update analyzed the reports lobbying organizations must file with Congress every three months,
disclosing how much they spent on lobbying in each quarter. Here are 100 of the biggest spenders in 2018 among trade groups and professional societies, as reported to Congress. That data is not apples-to-apples, however. Organizations have two options for calculating costs: Some groups report only federal lobbying while others include grassroots activity, state-level influence campaigns and election spending in their totals.
1 – Includes Institute for Legal Reform
*These groups report spending totals using the narrower definition in the Lobby Disclosure Act. Other groups calculate costs using IRS rules; in addition to federal lobbying, IRS totals include efforts to influence legislation and elections nationwide.
Source: Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, Association Intelligence. Chart includes associations that filed Q4 2018 lobbying reports by Jan. 30, 2019.