The Corner

Economy & Business

Corporate Lobbying: How Policies Are Made in Washington

Open Secrets has some new numbers about how much companies are willing to spend on lobbying to keep the gravy train of Washington subsidies going. Top beneficiaries spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress trying to get the Ex-Im Bank reauthorized. Morning Consult summarizes the findings:

The report shows that the National Association of Manufacturers boosted lobbying spending from $12.4 million to nearly $17 million from 2014 to 2015, while General Electric Co. went from $15.17 million to nearly $21 million, and Boeing Co. went from $16.8 million to $21.7 million. Representatives from Boeing and NAM declined to comment, and requests for comment to GE were not answered.

While it is impossible to know exactly how much money each entity spent on lobbying specifically for Ex-Im’s revival, it was the top concern mentioned in those entities’ lobbying reports.

Until recently, Boeing and GE could count on Congress to prop up their profits without ever raising any objections. Indeed for years, the Ex-Im Bank’s reauthorization was passed with a simple voice vote and without any changes or questions asked. That changed in 2012. At the time there weren’t many of us speaking out — but we did help to get the Bank reauthorization challenged when 93 members of Congress voted against the Bank. And reforms were included as part of a three-year reauthorization.

The next time around we finally managed to make the case that this issue was about unfair privileges granted to some powerful corporations at the expense of everyone else. The interest in the issue at that time was intense. As a result of the pressure, the bank’s charter was only reauthorized for nine short months in September 2014 and only because it was tied to the threat of a government shutdown. That gave us a chance to take a stab at killing it again. And we did. On June 30, 2015, the Bank’s charter expired. But thanks to the joint efforts of Republicans and Democrats in Congress, it got reauthorized as part of last year’s terrible highway bill.

It’s really this change in attitude around the unfairness of the Ex-Im Bank that explains why Boeing and GE had to spend so much money lobbying. It is sad when you think about it. It means that companies think that they are better off improving their bottom line by lobbying for government-granted privileges than by pleasing their customers.

However, the battle for the soul of capitalism isn’t over. While Ex-Im was reauthorized, it still can’t make loans above $10 million. That means that we can expect Boeing and GE to keep on spending money on lobbying until they get what they want. However, hopefully, sooner rather than later as the resistance to their efforts continue, they will realize that the issue isn’t going away and that the days when crony programs were reauthorized without a fight are over. If that’s the case, it may actually not be worthwhile to spend the lobbying money. That’s something to look forward to.

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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