The players range from giant Philip Morris, which wants to limit its legal liability on cigarettes, to tiny Kane County, Utah (population 5,169), which wants a voice in federal planning for a nearby national monument.
"What used to be the exclusive domain of a small group of people has largely become a free-for-all," said Howard Marlowe, a lobbyist who specializes in securing federal project money for local governments. "What we have seen over the past few years is a steady increase."
Spending for the first half of last year the most recent for which figures are available totaled $633 million, according to a computerized Associated Press analysis of lobbying disclosure reports.
The database, a joint project with the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, provides the first comprehensive look at lobbying spending since federal disclosures began two years ago. The numbers suggest that lobbying is at least a $1.2 billion-a-year business in Washington.
The figures includes money spent to pay the salaries and expenses of lobbyists, the costs of running their offices, spending on research used as lobbying ammunition, the costs of privately paid travel for policy-makers and their staffs and the limited meals and other favors permitted under new, restrictive gift rules.
The highest-paid lobbyists such as Jason Berman, head of the Recording Industry Association of America, can make $1 million a year.
The overall total is conservative since the lobbying reports on which it is based capture only the most notable direct lobbying of Congress and the executive branch.
It leaves out much limited or part-time lobbying activity; the selling of "strategic advice" and public relations help; the lobbying of 600 professionals or firms on behalf of foreign interests and the entire field of "grass-roots" lobbying, which has been estimated to generate $400 million or more a year.
It also leaves out special-interest political contributions, which totaled $67 million during the period. Such gifts ease the way for lobbyists.
Topping the list of high-spending interest groups was the American Medical Association, which dispensed $8.5 million for lobbying from January to June. The doctors' lobby is a perennially active player in Washington, and its concerns from the regulation of managed health care to changes in malpractice insurance have been on Congress' front burner of late.
Rounding out the top five lobbying groups were the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, at $7 million; Philip Morris, $5.9 million; General Motors, $5.2 million, and the Edison Electric Institute, $5 million. The rest of the top-50 list is dotted with prominent oil companies, pharmaceutical makers, trade associatios and telecommunications firms.
It was tobacco money that fueled the explosive growth last year of one well-placed Washington law firm, Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand. Among its big names are former Senate leaders George Mitchell and Bob Dole, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards and former Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen.
Other top lobbying firms included Cassidy & Associates, with $8.2 million in revenue for the period; Patton Boggs, $5 million, and Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, $4.6 million.
Written by Jim Drinkard
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