Special Report

Who Spends the Most Lobbying the US Government

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U.S. lobbyists raked in a record $3.7 billion in revenue last year from companies, labor unions, and special-interest groups, according to OpenSecrets, which tracks money in politics. This 6% growth compared to 2020 came after a tepid increase in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several spending packages have been introduced in 2021, including a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package and $1.9 trillion in federal spending on pandemic relief. This led the private sector into a mad dash to grab pieces of both pies. (There are also government-owned companies. Here are 14 big businesses run by the U.S. government.)

Industries fearful of policy changes, such as a proposal to restart taxes on chemical manufacturers to help pay for the cleanup of the country’s most polluted sites, helped boost lobbying spending last year. Similarly, calls to increase regulatory scrutiny of the Big Tech also had companies lobbying hard.

To find the 20 companies and interest groups that spent the most to lobby the government in 2021, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed OpenSecrets data on Top Spenders. Companies — lobbying clients — were ranked based on their total lobbying expenditures in 2021. Net income figures for the latest fiscal year came from company security filings or nonprofit newsroom ProPublica.

The 20 organizations on the list spent $434.3 million on lobbying in 2021, or about 12% of all lobbying spending last year. Many of the biggest spenders are organizations that represent special interest groups, such as manufacturers or pharmaceuticals. Seven of the 20 biggest spenders are companies, including defense contractors Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. 

Five of the top 20 spenders are involved in health care, and four of them are focused on telecommunications, broadband, and broadcasting. Two groups — the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — pursue favorable legislative treatment for corporations. (In addition to lobbying, companies also help support candidates. Here are companies bankrolling congress members who didn’t certify the election.)

The pharmaceutical, chemical, biotech, and manufacturing industries have their own special interest groups on this list. Amazon.com and Meta (formerly Facebook) spent the most on directly lobbying. The National Association of Realtors reported the highest net income of the special interest groups. 

Click here to see who spends the most lobbying the US government.

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20. CTIA
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $12.4 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $11.2 million

The CTIA, which represents the wireless communications industry, has been urging the federal government to maintain a steady supply of spectrum used for wireless communications to meet private sector needs. The spectrum is finite and the government controls access, but cellphone use in the U.S. topped 42 trillion megabytes in 2020, according to the group.

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19. Verizon Communications
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $13.2 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $22.6 billion

The world’s second-largest broadband and telecommunications company by revenue is also among the largest lobbying spenders. New York City-based Verizon is one of seven corporations on the list of the top 20 largest lobbying spenders of 2021.

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18. Biotechnology Innovation Organization
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $13.3 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: -$3.8 million

The BIO, which represents the biotech industry, is partnered with another organization on this list, the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America. The two groups oppose “Medicare for all” proposals that would offer Americans a publicly-funded alternative to employer-provided health insurance.

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17. Comcast Corp
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $13.4 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $14.2 billion

The Philadelphia-based owner of NBCUniversal is the world’s second-largest broadcast and cable company and the largest provider of home internet service in the United States based on revenue, according to Fortune magazine. Comcast spends almost all of its lobbying money on influencing lawmakers regarding telecommunications services.

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16. Boeing Co
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $13.5 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: -$4.3 billion

The Chicago-based aerospace company, maker of 737 commercial aircraft and Apache attack helicopters, is the top U.S. lobbyist on issues pertaining to air transport, followed by package carriers FedEx and UPS. Politico reported that three of the company’s top lobbyists recently departed, including its vice president of legislative affairs in March.

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15. AARP
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $13.7 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $55.3 million

The AARP focuses on issues affecting Americans over the age of 50 and is the second-most profitable interest group on this list after the National Association of Realtors. The AARP recently advocated for boomers who turned 60 in 2020 who could see a decline in their Social Security payments due to a problem related to the coronavirus pandemic in how earnings are calculated.

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14. NCTA – The Internet & Television Association
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $14 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $960,565

The NCTA is the primary trade association for the U.S. broadband and subscription television industries. Along with three other interest groups or companies on this list — the CTIA, Verizon, and Comcast — spent heavily lobbying against strict net neutrality rules and other telecom and broadband regulations, according to the consumer advocacy group Common Cause.

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13. Lockheed Martin
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $14.4 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $6.3 billion

The North Bethesda, Maryland-based aerospace, defense, and cybersecurity company is the world’s largest defense contractor and lobbies for favorable legislation on defense issues. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission earlier this year sued to block Lockheed Martin from acquiring Aerojet Rocketdyne, the last independent supplier of missile propulsion systems.

Source: Courtesy of National Association of Manufacturers

12. National Association of Manufacturers
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $15.3 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: -$483,506

The NAM has been criticized for its efforts to obstruct legislation pertaining to actions to mitigate climate change. Some NAM members including Microsoft and Procter & Gamble, have disavowed NAM’s policy position on climate change but still maintain membership to the advocacy group.

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11. Raytheon Technologies
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $15.4 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $3.9 billion

Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon is one of the two defense contractors on this list (Lockheed Martin is the other one). One of the many examples of the revolving door between defense lobbyists and the Pentagon is former Raytheon lobbyist Mark Esper, whom President Donald Trump appointed as the 27th U.S. Secretary of Defense.

Source: Courtesy of American Chemistry Council

10. American Chemistry Council
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $16.6 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $1.4 million

Like the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the industry trade group for chemical manufacturers actively lobbies against regulatory efforts to fight industrial causes of climate change. The association nearly doubled its spending last year to fight legislative efforts to implement an industry plastics tax and to restart an industry tax that expired in 1995 to clean up superfund pollution sites.

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9. Amazon.com
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $19.3 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $33.4 billion

The world’s largest e-commerce site and cloud computing services provider reported the second highest net income among companies on the list after Meta. Seattle-based Amazon has been greatly increasing the number of its lobbyists in Washington D.C., from 25 a decade ago to 111 in 2021. Amazon recently closed its acquisition of entertainment company MGM Studios in order to bolster its entertainment vertical.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

8. American Medical Association
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $19.5 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $3.3 million

The AMA opposes “Medicare for all” (or single-payer) proposals, arguing against any “one size fits all solution.” Currently, most Americans obtain access to health care through one system of employer-provided health insurance or through higher-cost private health insurance. Meanwhile, Americans continue to pay increasingly higher health care prices and ever-increasing health insurance premiums.

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7. Meta
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $20 million ($20.1 million)
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $39.3 billion

Menlo Park, California-based Meta (formerly Facebook) reported the highest net income of the seven companies on this list. The company broke its record for lobbying spending last year as Congress pushed for stronger antitrust regulation in the tech industry. Meta also opposes efforts to hold online services providers more liable for user-provided content and to require more disclosure about how their algorithms work.

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6. American Hospital Association
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $25.1 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $1.7 million

The health care industry trade group advocates for favorable legislation pertaining to policies affecting hospitals and extended-care facilities. Recently, the AHA called on the Biden administration to investigate alleged price gouging by health care staffing agencies, which have experienced a boom in demand for traveling nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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5. Blue Cross Blue Shield Association
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $25.2 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $36.7 million

The BCBSA is a federation of health insurance companies that together provide coverage to roughly a third of all Americans. The BCBSA subsidiary that spent the most on lobbying last year was Anthem, the publicly traded health insurer that in 2021 paid $1.1 billion in cash dividends to shareholders and spent $1.9 billion in share buybacks, another method of transferring wealth to investors.

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4. Business Roundtable
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $29.1 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $1.8 million

The lobbyist association whose members are the CEOs of major U.S. companies argued in 2019 that big companies must do better in considering the interests of employees and consumers, not just having a laser-like focus on maximizing shareholder value. But in September, a study funded by the Ford Foundation determined the Business Roundtable “has failed to deliver fundamental shifts in corporate purpose.”

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3. Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $30.4 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $21.0 million

Pharmaceutical companies raised prices on 742 drugs in January, according to Patients for Affordable Drugs, including 11 of the 15 top-selling drugs. These constant price hikes, which increase faster than inflation, have helped to make Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America a popular target for critics. Both the AARP and the American Hospital Association have lambasted retail prices of brand name prescription drugs.

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2. National Association of Realtors
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $44.0 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $116.2 million

The NAR is the most profitable interest group on this list and is second only to the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce in how much it spends to lobby on behalf of property brokers. The group opposes the U.S. Treasury Department’s new reporting requirements for all-cash real estate transactions, an effort to crack down on money laundering in the real estate market.

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1. US Chamber of Commerce
> Total spent on lobbying in 2021: $66.4 million
> Net income, latest fiscal year: $710,528

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobbying group, is aligned with the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Chemistry Council in its opposition to federal regulations aimed at mitigating climate change. The USCC opposes the Securities and Exchange Commission’s plan to require publicly traded companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions.

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