Whether we like it or not, lobbying is part of our government. If it’s an issue that we like (education?) or one we don’t care too much about (taxes?), the fact remains that there is probably a lobbyist working on the issue. But, how big and pervasive is the business of lobbying? I know it’s a stupid question, but I get to ask it anyway because this is my post.
To help answer that, I have to thank my friends (no, they don’t know they are my friends) at the Center for Responsive Politics (or OpenSecrets.org) for the data I’ll use in my posts. They did a lot of work putting together the information I’ll use, believe me I know how much work goes into building this type of database. I’ve also read their methodology, and agree with their approach. I ran summary reports in the center’s OpenSecrets.org website and entered the data in my own database where I could review/consolidate/analyze the information. My purpose in writing this isn’t to give you the nitty-gritty of lobbying, no, no minute details. The nature of lobbying is too big to do that here, so I’ll give you summary information and hope I’ve piqued your interest enough so you’ll go to their site and learn what you want based on your interests. What may be an issue that aggravates me could well be an issue that you like and want lobbied intensively. So, after you read this go have fun and watch for Part II—Where’d the money go?
We can review what is lobbied because we have the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 which requires each lobbyist/lobbyist organization to complete and submit a lobbying report, examples of two are included at the end of this post. The report lists the issues, lobbying expenses, agencies lobbied, etc. It’s these reports that the Center for Responsive Politics painstakingly used to create the database that allowed me to easily find the data I’m looking for. Normally, when I work on posts or databases, I round my numbers because exactness isn’t usually necessary. I won’t round the data I use here, I’ll use it the same way I found it. So, if you have a problem with that, round the numbers yourself. I have one more caution for you—don’t try to add numbers between the tables I use here. Each table is independent! It only summarizes the data for that particular part, so don’t combine, just look at each table in its own right.
The chart shown here is a summary of total lobbying spending and the number of lobbyists between 1998 and 2012. Is lobbying big business, well, yes! The total lobbying spending begins at $1.45 Billion in 1998, reaches a peak of $3.55 Billion in 2010, and fell to a low (???) of $3.30 Billion in 2012. The number of lobbyists started at 10,408 in 1998, peaked at 14,847 in 2007, and settled to 12,389 in 2012. That begs one question—what business sectors are lobbyists working on?
This table shows the top 13 business sectors. The all years rank in the chart shows the 1998-2012 sector ranking. I included that because I wanted to know if interest in business sectors changed from the all years rank to the 2012 rank. The sectors changed in ranking, but the top 13 is still the top 13. I don’t normally use an odd number in a database, I’ll use 10, 15, or 25 but not 13—except here because lobbying is so big that they need their own lobbyist—see number 13. Interesting! We also see about $3.2 billion spent on lobbying the top 13 sectors in 2012.
Where did the lobbying take place? This table summarizes filings by the top ten agencies. The lobbyist disclosure reports contain data on each issue, federal agency, or legislative branch that a lobbyist contacted. Currently, lobbyists file quarterly reports so we have to rely on the honesty and memory of lobbyists when they report lobbying activities. OpenSecrets reviewed each report and counted the number of contacts for each federal agency. If you look at the attached lobby disclosure forms you’ll see how tedious that would be, but a very necessary tedium if we are to know what lobbyists are up to in our government. The House and Senate receive, and rightly so to lobbyists, the greatest interest. This won’t change anytime soon. But, we also see that Federal departments also deal with lobbyists. Laws get passed, regulations are written, and those laws and regulations can have negative impacts on our lives, provide protection for businesses, or mean more dollars for companies represented by lobbyists.
In summarizing the data, OpenSecrets (again, look at the lobbying disclosure reports below) counted the number of lobbying firm’s clients and the issue areas they declared on the disclosure reports. The rank column is for the years 1998-2012. We also see the 2012 rank, the issue area and the number of clients. The only change between the all-years rank and 2012 rank was losing number nine Government Issues and having it replaced by Medicare & Medicaid as the new number nine. It’s interesting to see how some of these issues changed rankings but stayed on the top ten list. I would guess that these are the major lobbying issues and probably won’t change in the future.
Lobbying is with us whether we want it or not, it’s a big business, and it’s pervasive in our government. However, this post didn’t cover other issues we need to look at. In Part II—Where’d the money go? I’ll write about top lobby contracts, top lobbying spenders, top lobby contributors and, last but certainly not least, the top recipients of lobbyist’s contributions. Y’all come back!