Lobbying beat all-time mark in 2021 amid flurry of government spending

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Revenue figures, compiled in recent weeks from government records by OpenSecrets, show lobbying spending began to rise steadily in 2017, President Donald Trump’s first year in office, before flattening out in early 2020. of the pandemic. The jump in 2021, when lobbying spending was about 6% higher than in 2020, came as government pandemic responses and record spending took center stage, including 1.9 additional trillion dollars in pandemic relief and a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package.

The surge came as companies and associations aimed to roll back regulations on their industries – many of which were pandemic-related – while others vied for a slice of the trillions in new spending. Manufacturers, unions, finance companies and tech companies all spent significantly more in 2021 than in previous years, but some of the biggest increases came from industries hardest hit by covid.

Cruise lines, closed for more than a year by the pandemic, spent far more than they did before covid, with Norwegian Cruise Line spending 100 times more than in 2019, American Cruise Lines spending 20 times more and others doing smaller increases.

Norwegian hired two new lobbying firms and spent $1 million last year after spending just $10,000 in 2019, government documents show. The company has lobbied Congress, the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over cruise suspensions and guidelines for safe operations, as well as the $1.9 trillion US bailout , the third major stimulus bill passed during the pandemic.

Another cruise operator, Carnival, spent more than $1 million in the two years of the pandemic, straining pandemic-related appropriations and job losses, according to filings. It spent 59% more in 2021 than in 2019. As of March 2021, cruise supporters sent 155,000 messages to Congress pleading for the industry to return. The first cruise ship since the start of the pandemic was allowed to leave a US port in June, and since then more than 2 million passengers have traveled on cruises from the United States.

Cruise lines were left out of an initial relief package, approved in early 2020, but the CDC recently said it would allow coronavirus cruise rules to expire, making them optional for operators.

The cruise lines declined to comment, but the main industry association, the Cruise Lines International Association, said that with no cruise ships departing from the United States from March 2020 to the end of June 2021, operators have focused on “the responsible return of cruise tourism”. ”

“Our goal has been to educate policy makers on the comprehensive, science-based public health protocols that have facilitated the restart of cruise operations,” spokeswoman Laziza Lambert said.

Other industries have spent heavily responding to the proposals raised by progressive policy proposals from leading Democrats, with mixed success. The American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical and plastics makers, spent more than $16.6 million in 2021, up 18% from 2020 and well over double what it has. spent in 2019.

The group’s two main priorities, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Scott, were to reject a proposal to restore levies on chemical manufacturers to fund Superfund cleanup projects (which passed anyway), and a proposed tax on plastic manufacturers to prevent plastic waste from entering the ocean (which does not pass).

Thousands of businesses and organizations appeared to hire lobbyists for the first time during the pandemic, as more than 3,700 businesses and other groups that spent no money lobbying the government in 2019 paid lobbyists last year.

Among the new entrants are dozens of companies in healthcare, technology, tourism and leisure, including museums, theaters and entertainment companies. Small restaurateurs have formed a new association to fight the pandemic, called the Independent Restaurant Coalition, which has spent a combined $290,000 in 2020 and 2021.

Some of these groups may have initially hired lobbyists on a temporary basis, but decided to increase their spending as the pandemic continued, said OpenSecrets senior researcher Dan Auble.

“Every aspect of the economy over the past couple of years has been in crisis mode in its own right, so everyone got involved in lobbying,” Auble said. “I think there are probably people who came to Washington a few years ago and stayed, or industries who realized the benefits they could derive from having an active presence in Washington.”

Auble said even entrenched industries that have lobbyists in Washington every year spent more in 2021 than usual, such as tech and defense companies. Live entertainment and leisure companies spent more than $10 million in 2021, 43% more than in 2019. This included heavy additional spending from sports leagues, including the National Football League and Major League baseball.

The business roundtable increased spending to $29.1 million, up 72% from 2020. The total increase represented a push to advance infrastructure legislation and prevent tax hikes, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Cummings.

The pharmaceutical industry, regularly one of the biggest spenders in Washington, has also increased spending as it battles drug price controls and weighs in on vaccines and supply chain issues. Its main business group, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), topped $30 million in spending last year, up 17% from a year earlier.

“From supply chain issues to cancer research and continuing to deliver new treatments and vaccines to fight COVID-19, our organization is engaged with policy makers on a wide range of important issues,” said PhRMA spokeswoman Sarah Sutton said in a statement. She said when it comes to drug pricing, drugmakers “face policies that threaten to disrupt biopharmaceutical innovation.”

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