- Lobbying in US politics was a $2B+ industry in 2021
- Corporations and industry associations lobbied Congress and related agencies on legislative issues using an army of professional lobbyists, many of which have previously worked inside government.
- Taxation, budget and appropriations were the top issues with the most money spent on lobbying expenses by companies.
- Religion, DC statehood, apparel/clothing industry and gaming/casinos were issues with the least amount of lobbying expenses spent by companies.
- This report documents several instances of unusual associations between Members of Congress, their committee assignments, their stock trades in individual companies, and lobbying by said companies into issues that may be under the jurisdiction of those committees.
Whether we like it or not, a lot of money flows through politics. Our recent work on congressional trading contributed to a national conversation on whether Congress should be allowed to trade company securities (ex. stocks). Recently, the House Administrative Committee heard from a panel of expert witnesses on this topic. These experts provided insightful knowledge and a slate of options on how to move forward with the current set of legislative proposals (hearing archived here). We hope Congress chooses to pass meaningful laws to lessen the opportunity for conflicts of interest. These efforts would lead to further public trust since a lot of funding is allocated by the legislative branch to keep our country running. This report will highlight the fact that a lot of money is used to influence our politicians as well.
The Lobbying Disclosures Act requires that all lobbying activities and spending over $5000 are disclosed to the public. However, making information public doesn’t necessarily prevent conflicts of interest, just like exposing a problem doesn’t necessarily solve it. For instance, until recently, individuals with criminal records were allowed to lobby Congress, and successfully, without ever disclosing their nefarious pasts. A famous example of this was the subject of the 2010 movie “Casino Jack” on the true story of the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff. One of the consequences of that scandal led to the Justice Against Corruption on K Street (JACK) Act in 2019. This law made lobbyists disclose past criminal records and further strengthened transparency in the congressional lobbying system.
This report will look at lobbying activity from 2021. We’ll look at how much money is spent to lobby Congress/federal agencies on different issues and by different entities. We’ll also explore any overlap between the companies that lobby Congress and the companies that Congress invests in personally.
Using Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) quarterly reports, we looked through 56,000+ filings in 2021. These quarterly reports contain a lot of info, specifically they name registered lobbying groups/entities (referred to as registrants), clients that purchased lobbying activities from more established lobbying groups (referred to as clients), total amounts of money spent on the previous activities (expense and contribution amounts, respectively), issues and bills that were discussed.
One thing to note about these LDA reports is that expenses are not itemized per lobbied issue. A total amount is disclosed and several issues are usually listed as having been lobbied. In our analysis, we assigned that total amount to each lobbied issue. This means our total dollar amounts per issue are inflated as there was no way to determine how much of the total amount went to each issue.
Lobbying by the Numbers
In 2021, registered lobbying entities spent approximately $2.5 billion USD on lobbying Congress and federal agencies. Lobbying Congress is literally a billion dollar industry.
Figure 1 shows 79 issues ranked by total lobbyist expenses. The issues with over $500M spent on them over 2021 included: taxes, budget, health/medicare/medicaid, trade, transportation, labor issues, copyright, environmental, financial institutions, telecoms, homeland security and energy.
These issues make sense when we recall President Biden’s legislative agenda during his first year. Biden focused on infrastructure, climate change, healthcare and taxing the rich to pay for it all.
Figure 1. Lobbying Expenses per Legislative Issue in 2021
In 2021, more than 4,000 unique, registered lobbying entities were disclosed to have influenced federal lawmakers and staff, representing nearly 18,000 clients. Figure 2 shows the total number of registered lobbying entities disclosed to have worked on each lobbied issue last year. The results are similar to Figure 1 on lobbying expenses, as it makes sense to see that the issues with the most lobbyists were also the ones with the highest associated lobbying expenses.
Figure 2. Number of Registered Lobbying Entities per Legislative Issue in 2021
Figure 2 also highlights the pressure lawmakers face, that is, a constant barrage of outside influence directed at them throughout the year. More than 400 agencies were disclosed as registered lobbying groups, each employing a number of registered lobbyists, consultants and supporting staff. Among them, we found that 1,866 registered lobbyists were previously government officials, who worked closely with past or present Members of Congress as staff members, advisors and even as elected politicians themselves. The political revolving door is very real.
Next we looked into the nearly 18,000 interest groups that were disclosed as lobbying clients. Just as a reminder: A client was any entity that made a financial contribution to a registered lobbyist for lobbying services. Clients were very diverse and could be a for-profit corporation (ex. Microsoft hiring D&P Creative Strategies, LLC to lobby Congress on “Immigration”), a not-for-profit (ex. Harvard University hiring O'Neill, Athy & Casey, P.C. to lobby on “Medical/Disease Research/Clinical Labs”), your favorite MMA company (ex. UFC on “Copyright/Patent/Trademark” and “Immigration”), regulatory associations (ex. US Anti-Doping Agency on ”Alcohol & Drug Abuse”) or even governmental bodies. Figure 3 shows the total number of clients that paid for lobbying services and the related lobbied issues disclosed. Consistently, the top issues with the most clients were also the top issues with the most money spent.
Figure 3. Number of Lobbying Clients per Legislative Issue in 2021
In the next two tables, we show the top lobbying spenders. Figure 4 shows the top clients that spent the most on purchasing lobbying activities from established lobbying firms. Oftentimes, companies do this because they’re too small to have in-house lobbying teams, or they are foreign corporations with no established connections to Congress that a lobbying firm would offer. Sometimes, huge firms supplement their in-house lobbying activities by purchasing the services of established lobbying firms. An interesting observation here is that Huawei, the Chinese tech giant, spent $1 million lobbying on broadband and infrastructure in 2021. Since their technology was banned from the US in 2019, they were likely discussing that ban with the new administration and Congress. Biden extended that ban in early 2021. Don’t see mega cap names in this figure? Wait for it.
Figure 4. Top Clients that Purchased Lobbying Services in 2021
When a company is large enough or if an association is powerful enough, they may opt to have their own in-house lobbyists. Figure 5 shows the top registered lobbying entities that disclosed the highest lobbying expenses in 2021. Companies like Meta, Amazon, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin appear to have spent a significant amount on lobbying Congress in 2021. Meanwhile, at the very top of the list are industry groups able to throw boatloads of cash at legislative issues important to their members (which may include mid-to-large-to-mega cap corps).
Figure 5. Top Registered Lobbying Entities that Disclosed Lobbying Expenses in 2021
When we categorize these companies by their sectors, we see that Industrials, Tech and Healthcare dominated in lobbying Congress. Figure 6 illustrates the total expense and contribution amounts spent on lobbying in 2021 by different publicly traded companies. Many of these companies are familiar to retail. They are also common in Congressional stock portfolios.
Figure 6. Top 5 Companies per Sector Lobbying Congress in 2021
Congress Influenced and Invested
Lobbying is an avenue for big companies and associations to voice valid concerns and perspectives with lawmakers. The problem is whether our lawmakers can act with our best interests in mind and resist the temptation to act on the non-public information they may be receiving from industry groups or the companies themselves.
There are some notable areas where LDA reports fall short in the level of detail disclosed to the public. Although these reports disclose client and lobbyist names, amounts spent, and the issues/bills covered; unfortunately, the reports do not disclose which Members of Congress/federal staff the lobbyists met with.
As we know, Congress is known to invest in the industries they legislate. Pair this reality with the insane amount of money (and non-public info) flowing through the lobbying system, there could be many opportunities for personal gain on either side. This also means there could be many opportunities for conflicts of interest. To point out areas of potential conflict, we evaluated which Members of Congress traded stocks in the companies that also lobbied Congress.
Figure 7 shows the amount spent on lobbying activities (ie. expenses and client contributions combined) alongside the number of buy and sell transactions disclosed by Congress. We can see that the amount per quarter remained consistently around $1B/quarter. The frequency of trading by Congress steadily dropped throughout the year.
Figure 7. Number of Congressional Stock Trades and Amount of Lobbying throughout 2021
Congress disclosed making over 4,000 trades in various assets of 980+ publicly traded companies. We found that over 400 of these companies actively lobbied Congress last year and showed up in 92 of these lawmakers or their spouses’ trading portfolios. This means 46 Republican and 45 Democrats Senators/House Representatives, and Independent Senator Angus King disclosed making trades in these companies while possibly also being the target of lobbying efforts.
Figure 8 illustrates the overlap between companies who have lobbied Congress and Members that have invested in these companies in 2021. Due to the page limit, we show the top trades by 2021 purchase amounts by Republicans (upper) and Democrats (lower). Note that we had to remove Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft from these charts due to their enormous transaction amounts that, if included, would overshadow the rest. The ribbon thickness in each plot reflects the relative amount invested by Members of Congress and the color is set to an individual member.
Figure 8. Companies that Lobbied Congress and whose Securities were Purchased by Congress in 2021
We’ll try to illustrate this relationship in another way. Figure 9 shows the top companies lobbying Congress in 2021 and the amounts traded by Congress. The bars show the total amounts bought and sold combined with Democrat amounts shown in blue and Republicans shown in red. The company tickers and the lobbying expenses/contribution amounts they’ve disclosed are labelled on the y-axis. You can see why we needed to remove trades in Microsoft, Apple, Alphabet and Amazon from the previous Sankey charts. Clearly some favorite picks by our politicians. They are also some of the top companies lobbying Congress at least on dollars spent.
Figure 9. Top Companies Lobbying Congress and Amounts Traded by Politicians in 2021
Is there a trend between the amount traded on a company’s securities Congress and the amount spent on lobbying Congress by said company? Figure 10 charts this relationship by sectors and Figure 11 shows this relationship by companies. The size of the black dot represents the relative amount companies spent on lobbying expenses (ie. larger dot means more was spent on lobbying).
The sector chart shows that companies in tech, retail trade, transportation and finance were popular not only in Congress’s stock portfolios, but also in spending loads of cash to lobby them.
Figure 10. Congress Trades and Company Lobbying Expenses by Sector in 2021
In the company chart, we see the top right of the chart populated by mega caps, where Congress spent the most on these stocks and these companies spent the most lobbying Congress. Note Microsoft’s position on this chart due to the astonishing amount of money trading $MSFT stock and options by House Representative Josh Gottheimer and Suzan DelBene’s spouse.
Figure 11. Congress Trades and Company Lobbying Expenses by Publicly Traded Company in 2021
Let’s estimate returns on trades made in companies that lobbied the government. Figure 12 shows heat maps of Congress’ returns on stocks purchased and sold in companies that lobbied them. Note the following assumptions made to estimate returns:
- Earliest purchase date and sale dates were taken to estimate trade returns.
- If no sale date was provided then we estimated returns to 2021 year-end.
- If only sales transactions were disclosed in 2021, we took the most recent buy date in 2020 to estimate those returns.
We show returns in specific sectors and then on the top companies that spent the most lobbying Congress last year (spent more than $5M on lobbying expenses). Note that yellow squares are estimated gains of over 50%.
Figure 12. Congress Returns in Companies that Lobbied Government in 2021
Figure 13 highlights some of the most successful stock trades by Congress in companies that lobbied them in 2021. Note that these companies may not have spent very much on lobbying Congress compared to the ones showcased above in the heatmaps. For instance, FuelCell Energy Inc. ($FCEL) only spent $120,000 lobbying Congress on fuel cell tax credits and Department of Energy fuel cell research funding. House Representative Austin Scott disclosed buying the company’s stock back in October 2020 at $2.00. He then disclosed selling it in 2021 at $17.60, hence the insane percent returns observed in the chart.
Figure 13. Top Returns by Congressional Stock Trades in Companies that Lobbied Congress in 2021
We summarize the average returns in Table 1 which also compares estimated returns in stocks of companies that lobbied Congress and companies that did not lobby Congress in 2021. There does not appear to be any statistically significant difference between sub-group returns, except between average returns between Senate Republicans trading stocks in companies that lobbied Congress vs. those that did not in 2021. Returns were approximately three times more profitable for trades by Senate Republicans in companies that lobbied Congress vs. those that did not. These trades contributed to overall Senate trades in lobbying companies being two times more profitable than in non-lobbying companies. This is likely due to large to mega cap tech stocks contributing to most of the gains in the lobbying companies group, whereas finance and industrial-type stocks made up the non-lobbying group.
Table 1. Average Stock Returns on Trades in Companies that Lobbied Congress in 2021
Note: * means the difference between the two groups was found to be statistically significantly different (p < 0.05). Miscellaneous funds (such as ETFs) were removed before calculating average returns.
What about estimated returns in some of the top lobbying companies? Do congressional trades in these companies have higher returns than lobbying in other companies that don’t spend as much on lobbying? We found that the average stock returns between trades in these two groups to be basically the same (p > 0.05). So, there wasn’t a difference in estimated returns between the groups.
Table 2. Average Stock Returns on Trades in Top Lobbying Companies
Note: The average returns were not statistically significantly different (in this case, p > 0.05). Miscellaneous funds (such as ETFs) were removed before calculating average returns.
Successful trades by our politicians aren’t unusual by themselves. So let’s dig a little deeper and look at the committees Members of Congress sit on. Are there any connections between the companies they traded stocks in and those companies lobbying specific issues that could come under the jurisdiction of the committees those members sit on?
Again, there isn’t a direct connection outlined in the LDA reports for which committees and members were addressed when those companies lobbied specific issues. We aren’t saying anything nefarious has occurred. Instead, here are just some unusual associations between Congress’ trading and companies that lobbied specific issues.
The following are some examples of unusual associations in 2021:
- House Republican Andrew Garbarino, who sits on the Committee on Small Business, bought and sold up to $15k in OneSpaWorld Holdings ($OSW) stocks, which conveniently lobbied the government on “Small Business” issues. He sold for +1.05%.
- House Democrat Josh Gottheimer, who sits on the Committee on Financial Services, bought up to $30k and sold up to $15k in BHP Group Limited ($BHP) stocks, which lobbied the government on “Financial Institutions/Investments/Securities” and “Taxation/Internal Revenue Code” among many other issues. He also traded HCA Healthcare ($HCA) several times in 2021, which also lobbied on “Taxation/Internal Revenue Code”, “Budget/Appropriations”, and “Insurance”. By the end of 2021, his most recent purchase of up to $15k had gained +40%.
- House Democrat Lloyd Doggett, who sits on both Committees on the Budget, and on Ways and Means (which together have jurisdictions over government spending, revenue and taxation), bought Procter & Gamble Co. ($PG) stocks four times throughout 2021. PG lobbied the government on “Taxation/Internal Revenue Code”. Taking his earliest purchase date, he was up 30.5% by the end of 2021.
- House Republican Kevin Hern, who also sits on the Committee on Ways and Means, bought and sold FS Investments ($FSK) stocks. The company lobbied Congress on “Taxation/Internal Revenue Code”. Rep. Hern was up 33.2% at the time of selling.
- House Democrat Thomas Suozzi, who also sits on the Committee on Ways and Means, bought and sold CVS Health ($CVS), MGM Resort ($MGM), and Eli Lilly ($LLY) stocks throughout 2021. All companies lobbied Congress on “Taxation/Internal Revenue Code”. He bought up to $130k and sold up to $65k in $CVS, and one of these trades was up 52.6%.
- House Democrat Earl Blumenauer sits on the Committee on Ways and Means and its Subcommittee on Health. He bought $15k in Pfizer ($PFE) stocks on May 7, 2021 and has held (up 50% by end of year). Pfizer lobbied Congress on several issues including: “Health Issues,” “Medicare/Medicaid,” and “Taxation/Internal Revenue Code”.
- House Democrat John Yarmuth sits on the House Committee on the Budget, and bought $15k in 3M ($MMM) stocks in September 2021. 3M has lobbied on a variety of issues, but relevant to Representative Yarmuth, they lobbied on “Budget/Appropriations”. He was only up 1.21% by the end of the year.
- House Republican Mark Green, known for his excessive trading in the oil and gas industry, sits on the Committee on Foreign Affairs. In Q1 2021, he bought up to $750k in BP Midstream Partners ($BPMP) and later sold off up to $500k in Q2 (up 9.74%). BP America lobbied Congress on many issues related to the oil and gas industry, but of interest here were “Foreign Relations” and “Trade (Domestic & Foreign)”.
- Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville, who sits on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. He bought and sold 3M ($MMM) and Procter & Gamble Co. ($PG) stocks during 2021, sold $MMM during 2021 and sold off $PG in early 2022. Both companies have lobbied Congress on “Health Issues”.
- Freshman Senate Democrat John Hickenlooper sits on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology, bought Dragoneer Growth Opportunities Corporation (previously $DGNR), a SPAC, on February 21, 2021. Dragoneer and CCC Intelligent Solutions Inc. (previously $CCC, now $CCCS) announced their intent to merge at the beginning of February and completed said merger in August. CCC Intelligent Solutions lobbied the government on “Science/Technology” among other issues for a total of $240,000 in lobbying contributions. Senator Hickenlooper also sits on the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
- Tuberville’s colleague, Republican Senator Jerry Moran, also sits on the same committee and sold off up to $15k in CVS stocks in late 2021. Taking his earlier purchase date back in August 2020, he was +63%. CVS lobbied the government on “Health Issues” as well, along with “Medicare/Medicaid” and “Insurance”, noting lobbying expenses just under $9M.
Here's a summary table of the above observations with additional details like specific transaction dates.
Table 3. Unusual Associations between Committee Assignments and Lobbying Companies in 2021
Whether we like it or not, lobbying is here to stay. This report helps to illustrate just how massive an industry lobbying Congress is. We show that Congress and federal agencies are targeted by a well-resourced army of professional lobbyists with the goal of affecting legislation. We show that legislative issues such as taxation, budget and appropriations, among other things, were high priority items for companies and industry associations in 2021. The most popular issues aligned with President Biden’s legislative agenda in his first year.
In addition, we have shown an unusual overlap between Congressional trading and companies lobbying Congress. Although we allude to no wrongdoing, there are opportunities for perceived conflicts of interest that, at some point, should be addressed. These unusual associations further support a ban on stock trading by Congress.
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