When it comes to energy, the Washington lobbying and advocacy world is living in a new and unfamiliar landscape of fractured alliances.
That, at least, was the conclusion of an Axios report in July exploring the proliferation of informal coalitions under the Trump administration. The more traditional, entrenched trade groups that have long powered the engine of Washington’s lobbying and public relations machine have a bevy of new competitors in the form of smaller, informal advocacy groups.
By the Numbers
Nearly 550 such groups, in fact, disclosed lobbying activities in Washington in the first quarter of this year alone. That figure appears set to pace last year’s figure of 643, the highest in at least a decade.
Who are these groups and what are they doing? Axios offers a snapshot of the most prominent ones. This list includes examples like U.S. Made Solar, a coalition of U.S.-based manufacturers that spearheaded a public relations campaign during the last half of 2017 against tariffs on imported solar panels, as well as a nonprofit called the Affordable Energy Coalition, which was created last year to advocate against efforts by the Department of Energy to boost coal and nuclear energy. The coalition boasts the services of Hamilton Place Strategies, which is run by former House Speaker John Boehner spokesperson Michael Steel.
What It Means
For those interested in advocating for niche issues, specific policies or narrow reforms, the shakeup of Washington’s establishment players represents an opportunity. Informal coalitions can work issues that split larger trade associations or industries. They also have the advantage of being nimble and temporary. U.S. Made Solar, for instance, only needed to exist while Trump was considering whether to impose tariffs. It has since dissolved.
A potential downside for the broader public, however, is that these groups can more easily obscure their corporate funders using certain tax identifications or through declining to formally register to lobby Congress. This allows companies to keep a low profile if they so desire, but with so many informal groups and so many ways to conceal their funding, the public may be left in the dark.
Andrew Collins cut his teeth in politics as a congressional campaign staffer during the 2012 election. Since then he has worked in Washington, D.C. as the digital media manager and as a staff writer at the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, and is a recent graduate of the Trinity Fellows Academy (class of ’17). His work has appeared in Politico, US News & World Report, The Chicago Tribune, The Daily Caller, and The Hill. He lives in Seattle, WA.