Coronavirus fuels K Street lobbying gush, new disclosures show

Some industries that have ramped up their lobbying spending are among those most affected by the pandemic. Airlines for America, which successfully pressed Congress to set aside nearly $60 billion in aid for the airline industry, spent more than $1.9 million on Washington lobbying in the first quarter, up from $1.4 million in the previous quarter and $1.2 million in the first quarter of last year.

The Advanced Medical Technology Association, which represents 3M, Medtronic and other makers of masks, ventilators and other in-demand equipment, spent $1.4 million on Washington lobbying in the first quarter. That’s down from nearly $1.8 million in the previous quarter, when the industry mounted a successful push to kill Obamacare’s medical device tax, but almost double what the trade group spent in the same quarter last year.

Gilead Sciences, the maker of remdesivir, a drug that might help treat Covid-19, spent nearly $2.5 million on lobbying in the first quarter, up from $1.3 million in the previous quarter and $1.9 million in the first quarter of 2019. PhRMA, the powerful pharmaceutical industry trade group, and many other drugmakers reported spending less on lobbying this quarter, however.

Chris Ridley, a Gilead spokesman, said the company spent more on lobbying in the first quarter in part because of annual membership fees that are counted as lobbying expenditures. “It would be inaccurate to attribute the increase in our disclosed amounts entirely to COVID-19,” he wrote in an email to POLITICO.

Other companies that increased their lobbying spending include concert promoter Live Nation Entertainment and Duke Energy, which along with other utilities successfully pushed for $900 million in aid for low-income families to pay their electric bills to be included in the bill.

The disclosure filings shed less light on the size of the boom in business that many lobbying firms have experienced in recent weeks. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the top lobbying firm by revenue, saw $12.6 million in lobbying revenue in the first quarter — the firm’s best quarter ever.

But coronavirus-related work “had minimal impact” on the firm’s revenue in the quarter, Hunter Bates, co-leader of Akin Gump’s public law and policy practice, said in an interview.

Still, the rush of companies looking for help means it has “the potential to be a very strong year” for the lobbying business, said Rich Gold, who leads the law and lobbying firm Holland & Knight’s public policy and regulation group. His firm has signed 20 new clients in recent weeks for coronavirus-related work.

K Street is in the unusual position of experiencing a boom while eyeing the future with some trepidation.

Loren Monroe, a lobbyist at BGR Group, said the Republican-leaning firm had signed 10 lobbying clients for coronavirus-related work. “But we are being very conservative with budgeting for the year as the economic downturn will impact all businesses and partisanship will stall Washington activity the closer we get to the November elections,” he wrote in an email to POLITICO.

Tucker Doherty contributed to this report.