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Corporate Lobbyists Are Breaking Spending Records in 2023

Corporations have spent more on lobbying in the first half of 2023 than they did in the same period any year prior.

Demonstrators from the People's Action protest pharmaceutical companies' lobbying against allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, during a rally outside Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) headquarters in Washington, D.C., on September 21, 2021.

Midyear lobbying reports at the federal level have consistently set spending records since 2019, and 2023 was no exception. Spending across industries for the first two federal lobbying quarters came in around $2.1 billion, surpassing 2022’s record by a whopping $86.6 million.

A total of 12,112 lobbyists registered with the federal government lobbied during the first half of 2023. The most lobbied piece of legislation in the first half of the year was the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2024 with an estimated total of 449 clients paying lobbyists to weigh in on the bill.

The NDAA usually passes with bipartisan support. But this year, it faced scrutiny over provisions dealing with a range of subjects including Pentagon policies on abortion access, combatting Russian aggression in Ukraine, countering Chinese influence and supplying medical care to transgender troops.

The top lobbying industry for the first half of 2023 was pharmaceuticals/health products, which spent $192.7 million. The pharmaceutical industry was followed by electronic manufacturing and equipment, insurance, securities and investment, and air transportation.

The top federal lobbying spender for the first half of 2023 was the US Chamber of Commerce, which spent around $35.9 million. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) also continued to be a big player, spending $14.5 million.

The oil and gas industry has been among the top federal lobbying spenders in the first half of each year since the US shale revolution in 2008. The oil and gas industry spent over $65 million on federal lobbying in the first six months of 2023, about $103,000 less than what was reported during the same period in 2022.

The air transportation industry — which includes aircraft manufacturers, public and private airlines, and air freight services — had an unusually large uptick in 2023 midyear spending, setting an industry record at roughly $69 million. This record is a massive departure from previous midyear spending for the air transportation industry, which spent approximately $59 million in 2022.

The top-spending air transportation lobbying clients at the federal level were Boeing Co, FedEx Corp, United Parcel Service and United Airlines Holdings. The increase in federal lobbying spending from these companies might be explained by the introduction of the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act, also known as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2023.

As of midyear reports, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023 is the sixth most lobbied federal bill in 2023, with 211 clients spending on lobbying for or against it. The FAA Reauthorization Act included provisions to increase air traffic controller hiring targets, establish a program to support the retention of aviation professionals, prohibit the FAA from requiring mask-wearing or COVID-19 vaccines and raise the commercial airline pilot retirement age to sixty-seven.

Commercial banks also set an industry record for midyear spending in 2023 with over $34.7 million — about $4.2 million more than what was reported for the 2022 midyear. The previous midyear record was held in 2013, when commercial banks spent roughly $34.6 million in lobbying. The top three commercial bank groups that lobbied in the first half of 2023 were the American Bankers Association, Independent Community Bankers of America and CitiGroup Inc.

The influx of lobbying from commercial banks is likely a product of the Credit Card Competition Act of 2023, a contentious bill introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). This bill targeted competition in the credit card processing industry, seeking to lower processing fees for small businesses.

Durbin’s office released a statement saying, “American consumers are worried about inflation and rising prices, and credit card swipe fees are part of the problem. The Visa-Mastercard duopoly controls over 80 percent of the U.S. credit card network market…Market competition helps keep fees in check, but Visa and Mastercard have structured their networks to avoid competitive market pressures on their fees.” However, others believe the Credit Card Competition Act will hurt businesses and consumers.

Midyear lobbying totals also surged for anti-abortion rights groups, which set a new midyear spending record of $750,000. Susan B Anthony List and Right to Life were the top spenders, dominating spending among groups lobbying against abortion rights at the federal level. Around the time the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson overturning abortion rights was released in 2022, anti-abortion rights groups had spent $690,000 during the first two federal lobbying quarters.

Pro-abortion rights groups, including Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, spent $1.2 million by the 2023 midyear deadlines, down from around $1.5 million during the first six months of 2022.

Senior Researcher Dan Auble and Editorial and Investigations Manager Anna Massoglia contributed to this report.

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