- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tom DeLay has resigned from Congress and Jack Abramoff is going to prison, but the popularity of lobbying in Washington continues to flourish.

According to a new report released by the nonpartisan Political Money Line, lobbying of Congress and the executive branch reached a record $2.36 billion last year. During the last half of 2005, lobbying averaged more than $200 million per month — another first.

“The groups behind these efforts mostly represent the big industries who have legislation on the table,” said Public Citizen’s legislative expert Craig Holman. “And that really isn’t surprising.”

The health care industry had the highest federal lobbying expenditure tab, spending $183,324,757 in the last six months of 2005. The other top industry spenders were communications/technology and the finance/insurance industry, who spent more than $158 million and $155 million respectively.

In the second half of last year alone, the top five industry donors at the federal level spent more than $100 million each. Nine of the top 10 spent more than $50 million, and 17 of the top 20 spent at least $10 million.

“Increased spending on lobbying underscores the need for reforms,” said Sarah Moore, spokeswoman for Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, “especially improved disclosure.”

Mr. Shays and Rep. Martin T. Meehan, Massachusetts Democrat, last month introduced lobbying reform legislation. The Shays/Meehan bill is an attempt to strengthen the original House lobbying bill introduced in March. However, many components of the legislation have not been voted on, and an overall compromise with the Senate is still in the works.

The top-spending lobbying organization last year was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent $10.54 million. It was followed by General Electric and AT&T; Services Inc. & SBC, which spent $10.36 million each. The American Medical Association, AARP, Northrop Grumman, PhRMA and the American Hospital Association also were top spenders.

The top lobbying firm cited in the report is Patton Boggs, which spent $18.36 million on behalf of 380 clients. Akin Gump spent $15.515 million representing 152 clients, and Van Scoyoc Associates Inc. had the third highest total with $13.84 million and 255 clients.

Fred Wertheimer, president of the watchdog group Democracy 21, consulted on the Shays/Meehan bill, but said he doesn’t expect its proposed reforms to be addressed by Congress.

“Our view is that the bills in Congress are failures,” Mr. Wertheimer said. “Too many incumbents do not want to let go of the perks.”

Mr. Holman said the major components of lobbying reform — restricting earmark spending and independent 527 organizations — are not likely to come to fruition this cycle.

“We really started getting momentum with Abramoff,” Mr. Holman said. “But as the months rolled by and we didn’t get any more indictments, the momentum has faded.”

An announcement on the proposed reforms by the House and Senate are expected sometime next week, Mr. Holman said. Whether lobbying expenditures have risen in the first six months of 2006, as expected, will be known in August, when disclosure reports are due.

“Lobbying is correctly protected by the Constitution,” Mr. Wertheimer said. “But money and gifts for access are not.”

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