While the political fortunes of the nation's presidential aspirants are certain to swing as the race for the White House heats up, one feature of life in Washington, D.C., remains constant: Money makes the world go around.
Between April and June, the top three lobbyists -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Medical Association and Boeing (BA) -- spent a record $14.4 million on Capitol Hill in courting the nation's lawmakers, reports MapLight, citing federal disclosure records.
The big spenders? Business. The top 10 lobbying groups for the quarter all represent corporate interests, spending a combined $86.8 million over that three-month span, according to the not-for-profit research firm, which tracks money in politics.
One company new to the list is Google (GOOG). Congressional disclosures show the Internet giant forked out $4.6 million to lobby on issues ranging from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement backed by the Obama administration, to intellectual property rules and transparency issues related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Other players in the top 10 include General Electric (GE), the National Association of Realtors, the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Hospital Association.
Big business spreading money around the corridors of power is nothing new, of course. Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at centrist think-tank the New America Foundation, notes that 95 of the top 100 groups that spend money on lobbying represent business. Such organizations spend $34 for every dollar spent by labor unions, another interest group known for bending lawmakers' ears.
In all, businesses and their interest groups spent $2.6 billion on lobbying last year. Such expenditures are perfectly legal, Drutman emphasized, while corporations and their lobbyists maintain that they are merely seeking to keep lawmakers informed on key issues.
So what's the trouble?
"The big problem is that on a lot of issues, [government] agencies are hearing a lot from corporations and often very little from folks representing public interest groups or other potentially countervailing interests," said Drutman, author of "The Business of America is Lobbying: How Corporations Became Politicized and Politics Became More Corporate."
"There's a very clear imbalance in who has resources to participate in the political process," he added, noting that the purpose of corporate lobbying is often as much about quashing proposed legislation or rules as in seeking lawmakers' attention on pet issues.
Despite his organization's mission of shining a light on how money shapes politics, Daniel Newman, co-founder and president of MapLight, said that fixating on the exact dollar figures spent on lobbying can obscure the broader picture.
For one, quarterly lobbying expenditures fail to capture the full extent of corporate influence. Companies like Google also flex their muscles by running their own political action committees, funding think tanks and taking other measures to affect public policy.
The U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling also changed the legal environment for political spending, effectively empowering corporations and other deep-pocketed interests to up their contributions to lawmakers. Meanwhile, critics decry the "revolving door" between government and the corporate suite.
The lobbying blitz only widens the imbalance between moneyed interests and average Americans, Newman said. "An ordinary citizen can't afford to hire lobbyists, and can't even get a meeting with their representatives in Congress unless they're major campaign donors."
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