The second quarter was a sluggish three months for federal lobbying, with quarter-to-quarter declines in both spending and registered lobbyists active on Capitol Hill.
Spending in the first six months of 2018, however, reached $1.7 billion, the highest six-month total to begin a year since 2010, when it topped $1.8 billion.
Overall, $826 million was spent on lobbying in the second quarter, a decline of 9 percent from $907 million in spending during the first three months of 2018. But the $826 million in spending was an increase from the $821 million reported in the second quarter last year.
During President Obama’s eight years in office from 2009 to 2016, second-quarter spending averaged $822 million. Since President Trump took office in January 2017, average quarterly spending has increased to $851 million.
Compared to the first quarter, 70 industries paid out less on federal lobbying from April 1 to June 30, a period in which the majority of economic sectors, trade groups, companies and lobbying firms reported quarter-to-quarter declines.
Among the top spenders, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce paid out $20.6 million last quarter, ranking first among all organizations, and had 134 reported lobbyists. The Chamber’s spending was down 11 percent from the first three months of the year.
The National Association of Realtors ranked second with $14.2 million in outlays. Other top spenders included Google (or Alphabet, its parent company) with $5.9 million and the Business Roundtable ($5.8 million).
The health sector saw the largest percentage decline in lobbying. Its biggest spender, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) dropped its expenditures by 44 percent from the first quarter. PhRMA spent $5.6 million from April to June — good for sixth on the top-spenders list — after $10.1 million in outlays from January to March.
PhRMA wasn’t the only trade group within the health sector that reported a drop in spending. The American Medical Association reported $4.5 million in spending, a decline of 34 percent from the $6.8 million it reported in the first quarter.
Spending by Blue Cross/Blue Shield and its affiliates (seventh overall with $5.6 million) and the American Hospital Association (ninth overall with $5.3 million) also declined by 9 percent and 11 percent, respectively, from its first-quarter outlays.
Overall, the health sector cut its lobbying expenditures by 20 percent from the first quarter and 5 percent from the second quarter of last year.
Other economic sectors that reported a cut in spending from the first quarter included energy and natural resources (down 15 percent), defense (15 percent), agribusiness (10 percent), construction (6 percent), transportation (5 percent), and communications and electronics (1 percent).
Five of the top six lobbying firms in terms of revenue in the second quarter also reported a decline from the first three months of 2018, including a drop of $1 million in billings by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.
Akin Gump reported nearly $9 million in lobbying spending, which ranked first among all firms but was an 11-percent decline from its spending in the first quarter.
The last time Akin Gump, which had 67 employees actively lobbying in the second quarter, reported less than $9 million in quarterly billings was during Obama’s final three months in office in 2016.
Other top firms that reported quarterly declines but millions in spending were:
- Cornerstone Government Affairs ($5.3 million, down 11 percent)
- BGR Group ($6.6 million, down 2 percent)
- Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck ($7.1 million, down 1 percent)
- Squire Patton Boggs ($6.3 million, down 1 percent)
Overall, the number of active lobbyists who filed reports in the second quarter was 9,785 — or 513 fewer lobbyists than during the first three months of 2018, a decline of about 5 percent.
Not all lobbyists file their reports with the House and Senate by the quarterly deadline, however.
In the second quarter of 2017, 844 lobbyists filed after the deadline, increasing the final tally from 9,460 to 10,304 when accounting for those who filed after the July 20 deadline.
Another 855 lobbyists filed after the first-quarter deadline in April this year.
Geoff West is the money-in-politics reporter for OpenSecrets. Previously, he covered politics and public policy for eight years in Central Texas. He holds a master’s degree with an emphasis on investigative and computer-assisted reporting from the Missouri School of Journalism and was a graduate assistant for IRE and the National Freedom of Information Coalition.