Lobbyists Descend on New Congress: Five Takeaways on Q1 Reports

  • Republican lobbyists in demand to deal with GOP House
  • Debt ceiling, farm bill, freight rail changes spur activity

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The debate over raising the debt ceiling, reauthorization of farm programs, and getting to know the new Congress kept Washington’s lobbyists busy during the early months of 2023.

Those topics were among a host of issues fueling much of first quarter spending by the influence industry, lobbying disclosures filed with the House and Senate show.

“It’s not only work on those issues, but it’s going to be much broader than that,” said Karishma Shah Page, a lobbyist with K&L Gates.

Her firm reported an increase in revenue from lobbying fees, including from clients that are monitoring major pieces of legislation with the dual aims of looking to influence them and also looking to add smaller provisions that could hitch a ride on bigger bills.

Here are five more takeaways from the recent lobbying disclosures:

1. Staffing Up

Some companies and industry groups are playing catch-up after Covid restrictions shut down a ton of face-to-face interactions. They are also dealing with tensions with Republicans over environmental and social issues. That’s been good news for firms with ties to the new Republican controlled House.

“Some companies that have traditionally been established in Washington and built out a lobbying presence with both parties are facing a little bit of headwind getting to know some of these younger members of Congress,” said lobbyist Sam Geduldig of the all-GOP firm CGCN Group. “Now they’re increasingly turning to firms like ours to help them build relationships with this new majority that got off to a slow start because of the speaker election and delays that resulted from that.”

The CGCN Group has recently added two new people: Katie Boyd, who worked for then-Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and David Weinman, who worked for former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R). More hires are planned, Geduldig said.

Miller Strategies, the firm of Jeff Miller, who is close with Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), brought on Steve Ruppel, previously McCarthy’s political director. The firm’s biggest clients in the first quarter included Apple Inc. and the PGA Tour. Miller Strategies added new clients in the first quarter, including Delta Air Lines Inc.on tax and trade matters, according to a new filing.

2. Debt Ceiling Drama

The usual suspects, such as the Business Roundtable and the American Bankers Association, disclosed lobbying on the debt ceiling during the first quarter. Some less obvious organizations lobbied on the matter, too, according to recent filings. The Texas Children’s Hospital said it had advocated “to keep Medicaid off the table during debt ceiling negotiations.”

Ditto for Los Angeles County, whose outside lobbyist reported paying attention to the “debt ceiling” and how it might potentially affect “state and local funding,” according to its filing. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the National Association for Music Education both disclosed lobbying on the debt limit.

3. Train Wreck

Norfolk Southern Corp. added new lobbyists and increased its federal lobbying tab in the first quarter. One of its trains, carrying toxic freight, derailed in Ohio in February, prompting a bipartisan outcry on Capitol Hill. The company spent $560,000 in federal lobbying in the first quarter, up from $280,000 in the same period last year (and $460,000 in the fourth quarter of last year).

Norfolk Southern retained in March the bipartisan shop Klein/Johnson Group, whose partners are Israel Klein, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Matthew Johnson, a former aide to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). The Klein/Johnson Group disclosed receiving $40,000 from the client to lobby on “rail and surface transportation” matters, according to a recent filing.

Norfolk Southern already had outside firms on retainer, including Crossroads Strategies, the shop of former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.). Norfolk Southern paid Crossroads $60,000 for lobbying in the first quarter, including on rail safety, a disclosure noted.

4. On the Farm

The farm bill has attracted lobbying attention from a range of companies and industries, from AARP to Merck & Co., Inc., the American Bankers Association, the Beer Institute, and Walmart Inc. John Deere and Co., which makes agricultural equipment, increased its federal lobbying tab to $590,000 in the first quarter from $425,000 in the same period last year.

Not all companies or groups with an interest in the farm bill increased spending. Cargill Inc. reduced its spending on federal lobbying to $300,000 from $330,000. Same for the American Farm Bureau, which dropped to $460,000 in the first quarter of this year from $560,000 in the first three months of last year.

5. Heritage’s Hill Action

Heritage Action for America, the lobbying unit of conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, kicked in more cash to lobby in the first quarter of this year than it had in recent years, a new disclosure showed. The group upped its spending by more than 40% early this year, as Republicans took control of the House in January, to $200,000 from $140,000 in the first quarter of 2022.

It was Heritage Action’s biggest quarterly lobbying tab since 2017, right before Republicans lost control of the House. The issues it disclosed lobbying on included earmark changes, a House GOP bill that would limit transgender students playing sports (H.R. 734), and a measure blocking a D.C. criminal justice overhaul (Public Law 118-1).

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To contact the reporter on this story: Kate Ackley at kackley@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: George Cahlink at gcahlink@bloombergindustry.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com

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