President Obama says he's acted to curb the influence of lobbyists. I disagree with that claim, as I've written in today's column. Regardless of his intentions and the effectiveness of his executive orders and rules, this much, I think is evident: Obama's aggressive plans to expand the federal role in energy, health-care, finance, and more has been good news for lobbyists. It's simple economics: make government more important, and you make government affairs more important.
Some evidence of an Obama lobbying boom are the records that were shattered in 2009 (fourth quarter lobbying reports just came in last week).
Largest Quarterly Expenditure: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $71.9 million on lobbying in the fourth quarter. This is the largest amount since quarterly reporting began in 2008, but it's also 20 percent larger than any semi-annual amount ever reported. In other words, no entity has ever spent even close to this much money on lobbying in a three-month span.
Largest Annual Expenditure by a Company: Exxon Mobil, the largest-grossing company in America according to Fortune, spent $27.4 million on lobbying in 2009—the largest single-year lobbying tab by any company according to data at the Senate Office of Public Records. Lobbying issues included legislation on drilling, climate legislation, Iranian sanctions, and credit card fees. In close second place, with $26.6 million was General Electric. (Open Secrets has data that contradict this, but after reviewing the actual lobbying database, I think they have an error.)
Largest Quarterly Lobbying Contract: The Chamber and Exxon records described above regard total lobbying expenditures, including both in-house lobbyists and lobbying contracts (when companies hire K Street firms, for instance). Last year's fourth quarter, however, also saw the largest quarterly payment from a business to a lobbying firm.
Blackstone Group, a hedge-fund giant, paid $2.8 million in October, November, and December to the Ogilvy Group. Ogilvy lobbyists, headed by veteran Republican operative Wayne Berman, did Blackstone’s bidding on financial regulation, climate legislation, auto industry bailouts, and the taxation of hedge funds among other issues. This one may get an asterix, though, because it looks like Ogilvy is only reporting Blackstone payments in Q4–its Q1, Q2, and Q3 reports all report less than $5,000 in payments from Blackstone.