More than half the members of Washington’s lobbying corps have plunged into the debate on taxes in 2017. In all, 6,243 lobbyists have been listed on lobbying disclosure forms as working on issues involving the word “tax” through the first three quarters of 2017, according to Public Citizen’s analysis of a massive data download provided by the Center for Responsive Politics. That is equal to 57 percent of the nearly 11,000 people who have reported engaging in any domestic lobbying activities at all in 2017.
Put another way, this equals more than 11 lobbyists for every member of Congress. Perhaps surprisingly, the number of lobbyists working on tax issues this year has been only slightly higher than in the previous two years, during which tax overhaul was also debated but not expected to pass.
To be clear, most of the lobbyists who have sought to influence tax issues have worked on other issues, as well. And not all of the tax issues upon which they reported lobbying have been relevant to the comprehensive tax overhaul measure that is being debated in Congress. But each of the 20 organizations that hired the most lobbyists on tax issues reported lobbying specifically on “tax reform,” meaning that they have sought to influence the sorts of topics that are currently under debate. Likewise, of the more than 6,200 lobbyists who reported working on any issue involving “tax” in 2017, more than 4,200 specifically reported working on “tax reform.”
Of 41 lobbyists with connections to President Donald Trump or Vice President Pence whom Public Citizen identified earlier this year, 31 have lobbied on tax issues in 2017.
Many of the discrete tax issues that these lobbyists and organizations have sought to influence are at the heart of the debate over the current legislation. Corporate tax rates, repatriation of corporate profits, intra-organizational transfers of assets, depreciation rules and deductibility of interest were among frequently listed topics by the organizations that have hired the most tax lobbyists.
Twenty-Six Industries Hired at Least 150 Lobbyists Each to Work on Tax Issues in the First Three Quarters of 2017
Lobbying disclosure laws do not require organizations to disclose the amount they spend on individual issues, but the laws do require organizations to disclose the names of lobbyists who worked on individual clusters of issues. Thus, calculating the number of lobbyists is likely the most accurate – albeit imperfect – obtainable measure of an organization’s degree of lobbying on a given issue.
Tabulating the number of lobbyists working on tax issues reveals an influence effort of staggering proportions.
The pharmaceutical industry deployed 653 lobbyists to work on issues including the word “tax” in the first three quarters of 2017. Three pharmaceutical companies hired at least 50 lobbyists to work on tax issues. Insurance companies – including life insurance, property & casualty, and health insurance providers – hired 600 lobbyists. Other perennial forces, such as electronics firms, manufacturers, securities firms, energy firms, telecom, Internet, automotive and retail businesses all hired hundreds of lobbyists each.
List of Organizations Most Active in Tax Debate Reads Like a Who’s Who of American Corporations
Twenty organizations reported hiring at least 50 lobbyists who worked on tax issues during the first three quarters of 2017. This list consists of many of the best-known corporations in the United States, as well as their representative associations in Washington, D.C.
Hiring the most tax lobbyists was the business trade association U.S. Chamber of Commerce (100 lobbyists on tax issues). Also in the business association category was the Business Roundtable, which consists of chief executives of major corporations (51 lobbyists).
The specific issues that the Chamber of Commerce has lobbied upon focus on core issues, such as corporate tax rates, corporate tax inversions, repatriation of multinational business earnings, Scorporation tax provisions, depreciation rules, the border adjustment tax, the estate tax and interest deductibility.
But many corporations hired their own lobbyists, as well, either as in-house employees or through outside firms. Among those hiring the most lobbyists were household names including Amazon.com, Anheuser-Bush, AT&T, Boeing, Comcast, General Electric, Verizon, Wal-Mart and more.
The securities and investment industry is perhaps less represented than one might expect on the list of organizations hiring the most lobbyists, given the interest in tax issues shared by the industry’s wealthy clients and its lavishly compensated employees. But that is largely because the industry diversified its hiring among representative groups. Four of its representative organizations hired at least 20 lobbyists each: Managed Funds Association (54 lobbyists), Securities Industry & Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) (46), Investment Co. Institute (33) and National Venture Capital Association (22). The Managed Funds Association lobbied on taxation of investment fund managers, carried interest, taxation of pass-through entities and limitations on deductions, among many other topics.
Perhaps most indicative of the staggering degree of many corporations’ lobbying offensives is the number of outside companies they hired in addition to their typically extensive in-house lobbying operations. Five corporations have hired at least 15 separate lobbying firms apiece to work for them on tax issues so far in 2017: Comcast Corp. (23 firms), Anheuser-Busch (19), Verizon Communications, (17), Microsoft (16) and Altria Group (15).
In March, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy listed 12 multinational corporations that it said received the greatest tax subsidies over the past eight years. Four of these companies – AT&T, Verizon, General Electric and Boeing – are among those that have hired at least 50 lobbyists to work on tax issues so far in 2017.
In October, Public Citizen documented that 44 individuals who worked on Trump’s campaign or his transition team (or had other past connections to Trump or Vice President Mike Pence) have acted as registered lobbyists so far in 2017. This was a notable finding because Trump placed his pledge to “drain the swamp” at the forefront of his message in the closing weeks of the campaign, and rolling back the influence of lobbyists was at the heart of Trump’s plan to carry out his promise.
Of the 44 Trump/Pence-connected lobbyists we identified, 41 had registered under the domestic Lobbying Disclosure Act in 2017. (The other three solely reported lobbying activities under the Foreign Agent Registration Act.) Of these 41 lobbyists, 31 have reported lobbying on tax issues so far in 2017.
With their enormous complexity and high-stakes, tax issues are the buffet that keeps Washington’s swamp creatures fed. This undoubtedly costs a fortune. But the success of the nation’s largest corporations and wealthiest interests in shaping the current tax legislation to suit their interests shows that bankrolling the lobbyists’ unending feast is a small bill to pay in the big scheme of things – because it is a very big scheme, indeed.