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Saturday, May 25, 2013

What Lobbyists Do

Lobbyists write bills, kill them quietly, and pick their targets carefully.

Thomas Edsall writes at The New York Times:
According to [Lee] Drutman, with whom I exchanged a number of e-mails, a study in The Journal of Law and Politics, “Measuring Rates of Return for Lobbying Expenditures,” estimated that “companies that lobbied on the [jobs] bill got a return of 22,000 percent on their investment, $220 in benefits for every $1 spent on lobbying.”

Some of the most detailed research on what lobbyists do has been conducted by the Collaborative Research Project on Lobbying and Policy Advocacy, financed by the National Science Foundation. This is a major, multiyear academic study of the process of lobbying and policy making in Washington. In a 2009 book based on data generated by the project, “Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why,” Frank Baumgartner of the University of North Carolina and four colleagues found that the side with more lobbyists who previously served in government prevailed 63 percent of the time.
I asked a prominent Democratic lobbyist with just over $3 million in annual billings — who requested anonymity to avoid alienating his clients — about the difference between trying to win legislation and trying to block it.
“It’s significantly easier to block and impede,” he said. [emphasis added]
Congress is built to have multiple decision makers — members, leadership, differing committees, scores of staff — involved in the process, and it is a bicameral legislature, with two bites at the apple. So, the opportunities to raise questions, point out problems and flaws and essentially deter forward movement are numerous.
Bank lobbyists are not leaving it to lawmakers to draft legislation that softens financial regulations. Instead, the lobbyists are helping to write it themselves.
One bill that sailed through the House Financial Services Committee this month — over the objections of the Treasury Department — was essentially Citigroup’s, according to e-mails reviewed by The New York Times. The bill would exempt broad swathes of trades from new regulation.
In a sign of Wall Street’s resurgent influence in Washington, Citigroup’s recommendations were reflected in more than 70 lines of the House committee’s 85-line bill. Two crucial paragraphs, prepared by Citigroup in conjunction with other Wall Street banks, were copied nearly word for word. (Lawmakers changed two words to make them plural.)
Reuters reports that Apple has chosen to take the lead on tax reform.  CEO Tim Cook used his testimony before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations -- the topic was the company's tax avoidance --  to advocate an overhaul corporate taxes. Previously, Apple had let other tech companies get in front.
"They are very, very tactical," said a former Apple lobbyist who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the company. "They only join issues they really care about."
Apple has spent far less than other corporate titans on Washington lobbying over the past decade, records show, and the company has often declined to work with other technology companies on issues affecting the industry as a whole. It dropped out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2009 after it disagreed with the business lobby's stance on climate change.
The company spent about $2 million on lobbying last year, up from $180,000 in 1999, records show. This year it is on pace to nearly double last year's figure.
Apple's lobbying expenditures still pale in comparison with those of Microsoft Corp., which spent $8.1 million in 2012, and Google, which spent $16.5 million, records show.

And unlike other businesses such as AT&T and Exxon Mobil, Apple has not set up a political action fund to distribute employee contributions to congressional allies - a common tool for wielding influence in Washington.