Lobbyists Spend Nearly Billion A Year $400 Million Estimated In First 6 Months Of 1996, But Experts Say Total Probably Is Much Greater

MONDAY, SEPT. 23, 1996

Corporations, trade groups, unions and other special interests spent at least $400 million trying to influence the federal government in the first half of 1996, according to an analysis of the first disclosures under a new lobbying law.

Expenditures ranged from the millions spent by cigarette firms and the nation’s largest doctors lobby to less than $10,000 by San Francisco’s Family Violence Prevention Fund, which only has a part-time lobbyist.

The $400 million figure is the most comprehensive estimate yet of amounts that special interests spend on lobbying official Washington, but experts say it probably is conservative.

“I don’t think you’re at all out of bounds with the thought of a billion-dollar-a-year industry,” said Ron Shaiko, an American University professor who teaches lobbying.

The Associated Press derived the $400 million spending total by randomly sampling one of every 50 of the more than 9,000 lobbying reports on file on Capitol Hill and using their reported lobbying expenses to project an industrywide total.

In addition, AP randomly reviewed some 1,800 reports in greater detail and searched the reports of 200 of the most active players in Washington. Those methods further bolstered the $400 million figure.

Among the largest spenders in the first half of 1996:

Philip Morris, $11.3 million. The tobacco giant spent its money primarily in a fight to keep tobacco products from coming under regulation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The American Medical Association, $8.5 million. The nation’s largest professional group of doctors lobbied on Medicare and Medicaid, tobacco regulation, health care and legislation to change liability reform.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, $7.5 million. The chamber lobbied heavily on behalf of the Republicans’ “Contract With America,” which included many business-friendly provisions.

Under a law that took effect Jan. 1, groups that lobby on federal legislation or regulations must file reports estimating their expenditures twice a year. The first were due beginning Aug. 15.

For two reasons, the first six-month figure probably is low.

First, 1996 so far has been a quieter-than-usual season for lobbyists, said Wright Andrews, president of the American League of Lobbyists, the profession’s main trade group. “I would not be surprised to see the numbers higher in a subsequent six-month period,” Andrews said.

Second, the new reports ignore money spent on grass-roots lobbying, the rapidly growing practice of using advertising, fax machines, mail and telephone banks to stir up public support or opposition to policies.

Not only the Chamber of Commerce but also groups including the National Restaurant Association and the National Association of Home Builders spent heavily last year promoting the “Contract With America” with the public.

Unions are spending $35 million this election year on broadcast ads promoting Democratic issues. The new numbers reflect none of that spending.

The new law also does not require spending reports on such other forms of influence as political donations, state and local lobbying, and public relations and advertising.

There is little to which the new numbers can be compared. Estimates are that upward of $100 million was spent lobbying for or against President Clinton’s 1993 health care reform proposal. Congressional auditors in 1989 totaled up $234 million in lobbying spending, using admittedly incomplete data.

Other major spenders this year include General Motors, $6.9 million; the Christian Coalition, $5.9 million; General Electric, $5.3 million; the Chemical Manufacturers Association, $4.5 million; AT&T;, $4.3 million; pharmaceutical maker Pfizer, $4.2 million; and banking giant Citicorp, $4.2 million.

Dozens of other interests reported spending more than $1 million, including major players in the oil, telecommunications, defense and pharmaceutical industries.

For the nation’s largest defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, a $3.4 million lobbying budget for six months represented a tiny cost compared to the $10.5 billion in federal contracts it held in 1995.

The nation’s largest membership organization, the American Association of Retired Persons, spent $3 million weighing in on everything from age discrimination, low-income heating assistance and telemarketing fraud to the practices of the funeral industry.

Some of the Capitol’s smaller players didn’t even have to file reports because they spent less than the law’s minimum for time or money.

The National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, which worked to push through a bill establishing a national gambling study commission, didn’t file. But its primary opponent, the American Gaming Association, reported spending $400,000.

The Family Violence Prevention Fund reported spending a small amount to hire a local lobbying firm to press for programs educating federal workers about domestic violence.

Marissa Ghez, the group’s associate director, said the lobbying budget for this year is under $20,000.

Told how much Philip Morris had spent, she laughed. “Wouldn’t that be nice to have?” Ghez said. “We could do some good with $11 million.”

xxxx Top spenders Some of the largest spenders among groups that reported lobbying expenses for the first half of 1996: Philip Morris, $11.3 million American Medical Association, $8.5 million U.S. Chamber of Commerce, $7.5 million General Motors, $6.9 million Christian Coalition, $5.9 million

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