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Unprecedented Relief Funds Stimulate Boom In Industry Lobbying For Relief Funds


Not all industries have ground to a halt because of the coronavirus. Some are kicking into high gear, like the industry of influence - lobbying. Congress recently approved a $2 trillion relief package, and lawmakers are not done yet. So companies and interest groups are hoping big investments in lobbying firms will pay off in federal funding. And there are a lot of new players on the scene.

Here to walk us through this lobbying feeding frenzy is Sheila Krumholz. She's the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.



CHANG: So I understand this spike in lobbying has gone far beyond just the major industries. I'm curious what industries you've noticed are hiring lobbyists for the first time now.

KRUMHOLZ: Yeah. About three-fourths of the new registrations sent for the last month have cited COVID and are by companies that are either new to lobbying or haven't lobbied in recent years, but (ph) about a third of those are for health care companies.

CHANG: Oh, interesting. Are you seeing any nontraditional industries jumping into the fray as well?

KRUMHOLZ: There are some related to education, which aren't so typical, but lots of travel and tourism, gaming and entertainment and retail and manufacturing - kind of what you would expect to see at this time.

CHANG: Ah, got it. OK. So I'm trying to picture this because lobbying - you know, it's traditionally face-to-face; it's this incremental process. What does that process look like now when everyone's working remotely and when the legislative process is so much more accelerated?

KRUMHOLZ: Right, yeah. Like the rest of us, the lobbyists on K Street have had to pivot from in-person meetings to phone and video calls and emails - not ideal when you're trying to sell policy to Congress that needs quick information. But lobbyists can provide that if their calls are answered. So that's where the revolving door networks are really important. The short timeframes and the lack of in-person contact makes getting your call taken critical.

CHANG: And I'm curious - have you spotted any examples of industries that are using this pandemic opportunistically, like to get something now that they have fought for in the past but couldn't get before?

KRUMHOLZ: Oh, absolutely. The bigger groups with lots of lobbying experience are adept at repackaging their existing agenda as being urgent and worthy of relief even when those items have been on the wish list for a long time. So hotels get a tax break they've been pushing for since 2017; big banks have pushed for deregulation they've long wanted; tech has pushed for delays in privacy laws and changes for gig workers. So that's being kind of mushed into the package.


I imagine, you know, because lawmakers are moving so rapidly right now - you know, quick fixes, obviously, are needed to save lives, to stave off economic disaster - do you feel like lobbyists slow down that process? Is it good or bad that we're seeing so many more people entering the fray right now?

KRUMHOLZ: I think it's reasonable to expect that everyone is going to be trying to have their perspective heard. It - this pandemic has touched every facet of industry, coast to coast. And so it's natural that concerns large and small would be trying to ensure that they are - get part of the pie. So I think it's typical in relief packages like this to see lots of different players, including newer organizations.


CHANG: Well, I guess it's expected. But as, you know, a public service watchdog like yourselves are, I mean, do you feel that that's a good thing to have so many more new players in the field?

KRUMHOLZ: Well, we don't - we are really adamant about transparency. That is really what we focus on is making sure that we see who the players are, what they're spending and what they're lobbying on so that the public can make the judgment about whether that's merited and whether they deserve relief. But we don't have an opinion about whether they should be lobbying at all. It is a constitutionally protected right to seek redress of grievances.

CHANG: All right. That is Sheila Krumholz. She is the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, talking about so many new players entering the lobbying landscape during this time.

Thank you so much.

KRUMHOLZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: April 14, 2020 at 12:00 AM EDT
Sheila Krumholz misspoke when she said about three-fourths of new registrations sent for the last month have cited COVID (as the reason) and are new to lobbying or haven't lobbied recently. She meant to say three-fourths of registrations sent for the last month that have cited COVID are by companies that are either new to lobbying or haven't lobbied in recent years.