While many sectors and industries were devastated by COVID-19, the business of lobbying is booming as firms receive requests from clients looking to access federal funding related to the coronavirus.
The Center for Responsive Politics found that at least 3,200 companies reported lobbying on issues related to coronavirus and the stimulus bill, including firms representing Apple and Nike, along with smaller associations and trade groups.
More than 1,500 of those lobbying clients directly sought to influence the House version of the CARES Act, the $2 trillion stimulus bill passed in late March that included funding for businesses and individuals. This level of lobbying had not been seen since the last economic stimulus package in 2009.
At a time when the economy seems to be teetering on the brink of disaster, every corporation and organization is trying to get its own piece of the pie and secure the funding they need to stay in business after the COVID-19 pandemic passes.
One such example is the American Shrimp Processors Association, which is facing financial hardship after restaurants across the country closed in March. The group reports that about 75% of all shrimp caught in the U.S. is sold to restaurants.
“The shrimp industry is under an enormous amount of economic strain,” C. David Veal, the trade group’s executive director, told Politico, adding that the shrimp processing industry wanted to make sure “our name was heard.”
Politico reports that the association hired former Senators John Breaux of Louisiana and Trent Lott of Mississippi, and several other lobbyists to appeal to Congress and the departments of Commerce and Agriculture — for fees of $40,000.
The move represents a calculated risk many businesses are taking to pay lobbyists with the hope that they’ll receive a greater portion of the stimulus money in return.
The Washington Examiner reported that Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, one of the top lobbying firms in Washington by revenue, brought in $12.6 million in lobbying revenue in the first quarter, the group’s best quarter ever.
However, that does not mean life on K Street is going to be easy. Lobbying firms are worried about long-term economic impacts on their business as the current recession continues. After the 2008-2009 lobbying boom around the last economic stimulus, some smaller firms found that they did not have the long-term business to remain open; some fear the same thing will happen this time around.
“I would never call it a gold rush, and I think it would be foolish for people to feel lobbying firms won’t feel a negative impact when the economy takes a hit like this,” said Hunter Bates, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who is now a leading lobbyist at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.
The way lobbying happens has also changed amid COVID-19. The profession that was built on in-person meetings and networking events now takes place largely through phone calls, texts, and Zoom meetings while lobbyists are working from home alongside their families.
“When I wake up, I’ve got at least 25 text messages and 50 emails from people who are on the East Coast, already at it,” representative-turned-lobbyist Kevin Yoder told Politico. “Part of the experience of lobbying was to develop a relationship — you bring in your client, sit down with staffers, have a conversation, there’s a ritual that occurs. Obviously, it’s much harder to do that now.”
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