First quarter federal lobbying spending blew past $1 billion for the second year in a row, a new OpenSecrets analysis of 2023 federal lobbying disclosures found. The federal budget and appropriations was the most lobbied issue as Congress grappled with the looming debt ceiling crisis, and players in the health sector, which spent more money on federal lobbying last quarter than any other sector, fought to keep cuts to Medicaid off the bargaining table.
During the first quarter of 2022, federal lobbyists reported receiving more than $1 billion in nominal dollars — not adjusted for inflation — for the first time ever in a single quarter. Total federal lobbying spending topped $4.1 billion last year, and first quarter spending sets 2023 on track for another big year.
Congress reopened its doors to the public in January, nearly three years after coronavirus measures restricted lobbyists’ access to lawmakers on the Hill. The 118th Congress got off to a relatively slow start, but lobbyists were nevertheless busy.
The federal budget and appropriations is consistently the most lobbied issue on Capitol Hill, and that remained true during the first three months of 2023, an OpenSecrets analysis of federal lobbying disclosures found.
The elephant in the chamber is the ongoing debt ceiling debate. President Joe Biden is pushing to raise the debt ceiling limit without spending cuts or other conditions, but House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said the GOP-led U.S. House will not pass “a no-strings-attached debt limit increase.” Despite the escalating tensions, the two men have reportedly not met to discuss the budget or debt ceiling since early February. A timeline for default is as contentious as the path forward: the Treasury Department said a default was possible as soon as June, while the Congressional Budget Office projected it could be as late as September.
House Republicans passed the Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023 last Wednesday, which would increase the debt ceiling to avoid default but cap spending at fiscal year 2022 levels. Future federal spending increases would max out at 1% annually under the bill, which also proposes clawing back unspent COVID-19 relief money, axing Biden’s student debt relief plan, reversing new funding for IRS enforcement and upping work requirements for Medicaid and food stamps. The Limit, Save, Growth Act is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate.
The health sector spends more money on federal lobbying than any other sector, and this year is no exception. Health insurers, companies and associations dominated the top 10 federal lobbying spenders throughout the first three months of 2023 as Congress is making moves to crack down on pharmacy benefit managers and the Inflation Reduction Act enacts prescription drug price reductions. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America released a survey that found three-quarters of their members felt the Inflation Reduction Act led to “significant uncertainty” around research and development planning, which the pharmaceutical industry trade association warned forced companies to reevaluate their investment strategy.
Major health sector players including the AARP, the Alliance for Retired Americans, the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals and individual hospitals and systems paid federal lobbyists to “keep Medicaid off the table during debt ceiling negotiations,” a POLITICO analysis of first quarter federal lobbying disclosures found.
“AARP will fight any cuts to the Social Security and Medicare benefits workers and retirees have paid into and earned,” AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said in a statement in January.
Financial institutions including Truist and the American Bankers Association, conservative advocacy groups including the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity, unions, energy firms and local governments paid lobbyists to advance their interests on the debt ceiling crisis, POLITICO found.
Ten clients account for 8% of the $1 billion spent on federal lobbying in Q1 2023
At least 10,933 organizations employed 10,550 federal lobbyists during the first three months of 2023, an OpenSecrets analysis of federal lobbying disclosures found. That’s down from 13,847 organizations and 12,674 lobbyists active in 2022.
The 10 clients that spent the most money on federal lobbying during the first quarter accounted for 8% of all federal lobbying spending during the first three months of 2023.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which advocates for American business interests, spent $19.1 million on federal lobbying during the first quarter of 2023 – more than any other lobbying client. The largest lobbying organization in the country, the Chamber boasts a massive pro-business lobbying portfolio that covers issues including taxes, defense spending, antitrust enforcement and efforts to ban non-compete clauses.
The organization disclosed lobbying on the “debt ceiling/limit” and “budget caps” during the first quarter of 2023, raising the “business community’s concern about the prospect of a historic default that would devastate the U.S. economy” in a press release issued at the end of January.
“The House has now passed a bill addressing the debt limit and the need to control spending. The administration should meet with Congressional leaders without delay to find a path forward to raise the debt ceiling and address runaway deficits,” Neil Bradley, the Chamber’s chief policy officer and executive vice president, said in a press release issued after the Limit, Save, Grow Act passed last Wednesday.
The National Association of Realtors, the largest trade association in the U.S. representing stakeholders in the real estate industry, did not disclose lobbying on the debt ceiling during the first quarter of 2023. The group instead focused on affordable housing, flood insurance program reauthorization, fair housing programs and implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, among other issues.
Last year, the National Association of Realtors celebrated advocacy “wins” including removing almost a dozen tax increase provisions from the Inflation Reduction Act “through major efforts by NAR and its commercial real estate partners to educate Members of Congress on the unhealthy economic consequences of these proposals,” OpenSecrets previously reported.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Realtors are the top lobbying spenders from 1998 through 2022. They are two of the more than 470 nonprofits tracked by OpenSecrets that elect to use the broader definition of lobbying.
These two lobbying giants employ some of the biggest firms, including Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Invariant. The top 10 lobbying firms raked in 8.8% of the $1 billion spent on federal lobbying in the first three months of 2023.
Former members of Congress swing through the “revolving door”
Three former members of Congress registered to lobby during the first quarter of 2023, including two representatives who retired at the end of the 117th Congress.
Former Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) retired after the 2022 election cycle following nearly three decades in the U.S. House. First elected in 1994, Doyle served on the House Energy and Commerce Committee for more than a decade, championing new technologies and renewable energy sources to address climate change. He’ll continue this work as a government affairs counselor at K&L Gates, which highlighted the “tremendous value” Doyle will bring to these projects in a press release announcing his hiring.
“When I think about this whole Ohio and West Virginia region, the opportunity to support the clean energy and tech fields and replace manufacturing jobs that have been lost, that’s exciting to me,” Doyle told The American Lawyer. “I’m hoping to continue to be a positive force for momentum in the region.”
Doyle is subject to a one-year “cooling off” period before he can lobby his former colleagues on Capitol Hill. But he already lobbied the Department of Energy on “funding for programs for green energy low carbon emissions development projects that include or address energy, poverty, energy equity, public housing development” on behalf of Walnut Capital Management, a Pittsburgh-based property management company, during the first quarter of 2023.
Former Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wisc.), who announced in 2021 that he would not seek reelection during the 2022 cycle, also registered as a lobbyist during the first quarter of 2023. Kind was first elected to the U.S. House in 1996, and he sat on the House Ways and Means Committee, the principal tax-writing committee.
The 13-term congressman was also involved in passage of the Affordable Care Act and other major healthcare legislation passed during his tenure, according to his profile at the lobbying firm Arnold & Porter, where he will continue to tackle tax, trade and healthcare issues as senior policy advisor. Kind is also subject to the one-year cooling off period, but he’s lobbied the Treasury Department on some language included in an OECD tax deal that could mean certain companies could be double taxed. While “the overall impact isn’t that large” since it would impact a small number of companies, Kind told POLITICO, “it’s a serious issue for these multinational ESOPs operating and creating jobs overseas.”
Former Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) also registered as a lobbyist for the first time since he left Congress a decade ago. Sullivan was first elected to the U.S. House in 2002, but he lost the GOP primary to Tea Party-backed candidate Jim Bridenstine during the 2012 election cycle.
Sullivan is a founding partner at the consulting and lobbying firm SBL Strategies. The former congressman registered this spring to lobby Congress on “re-licensing” issues for Oklahoma’s Grand River Dam Authority and natural gas, environmental and infrastructure policy for the Tulsa-based energy company, Williams Companies.
Senior Researcher Dan Auble contributed to this report.