In the U.S. political system, lobbying is par for the course. Like other interest groups, major industries and leading corporations seek to influence legislation and regulation, in their case typically to ensure it's as favorable as possible to the bottom line.
Corporate political activity can take the form of campaign contributions, but companies and industries also employ lobbyists to make their views known to lawmakers and regulators.
Here, using data from opensecrets.org, we break down lobbying efforts, industry by industry, combining all political contributions and lobbying spending from Jan. 1, 1998, to Sept. 30, 2021. Figures are calculations by the Center for Responsive Politics based on data from the Senate Office of Public Records.
Let's take a closer look at how much each industry spends on lobbying, the top corporate spenders in each category, and what spurs their lobbying efforts.
- Companies and industries in the United States lobby government officials to influence legislation and regulation.
- The pharmaceutical and health products industry has spent the most on lobbying over the past 24 years.
- Other industries that spend heavily on lobbying efforts include insurance, electric utilities, electronics manufacturing, and business associations.
Pharmaceuticals/Health Products: $5,170,516,263
Spending $5.17 billion over the past 24 years, the pharmaceutical and health products industry has far outpaced all others in lobbying spending. The industry spent a record $356.6 million on lobbying in 2021, nearly 30% more in nominal terms than it did in 2009 amid debates about the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This includes spending on behalf of drug manufacturers as well as sellers of medical products and nutritional and dietary supplements. The main drugmakers' lobbying group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, remained the biggest spender within the health care sector in 2021 with outlays of $30.4 million.
The number of pharmaceutical/health product lobbyists in the United States and the percentage who are former government employees, as of Dec. 31, 2021.
The industry's top lobbying priorities include "leading in the COVID-19 vaccination effort, opposing H.R. 3 (a bill which would give the government the ability to negotiate and cap drug prices based on an international index), and resisting government-run healthcare,” according to Open Secrets.
The insurance industry, including the health, property, and auto insurance companies along with agents and brokers, has historically mounted a lobbying effort second only to that of drugmakers and other health care products providers. In 2021, the insurance industry spent $152.9 million on lobbying including campaign contributions. Health insurance companies have occasionally fought over healthcare legislation against drugmakers, hospitals, and other health care providers, with each group blaming others for fast-rising costs. In 2021, Blue Cross/Blue Shield led industry lobbying efforts with spending of $18.4 million. It was followed by America's Health Insurance Plans with $11.3 million in outlays. In early 2022, that health insurers' group opposed legislation cracking down on the industry's frequent rejections of mental health and addiction treatment claims.
Electric Utilities: $2,828,743,315
Utilities are a highly regulated industry with service rates that must be approved by state utility commissions and a big stake in federal environmental and climate legislation, so heavy lobbying has long been key to the business model. Regulation of pollution and carbon emissions, waste storage, cybersecurity, and infrastructure is of particular interest. The electric utilities industry spent $112.2 million on lobbying including contributions in 2021, with utility association Edison Electric Institute the top spending organization at $2.8 million.
Electronics Manufacturing and Equipment: $2,819,482,099
This category includes many of the largest software, computer hardware and semiconductor suppliers. With the technology sector's growing profitability, tech companies' political contributions have increased. While the sector trails electric utilities slightly in political spending since 1998, it outspent them in 2021 with lobbying costs and campaign contributions of $179.5 million. Oracle Corp. (ORCL) led with spending of $11.5 million, followed by Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) at $10.2 million.
The giving and spending has been relatively bipartisan, typically slightly favoring the party in control of the White House. Tech companies have focused their lobbying on issues of relatively narrow interest, with Oracle engaged on labor, defense, IT, and copyright legislation while Microsoft has weighed in on telecom issues, trade, taxes, and immigration.
Business Associations: $2,700,343,039
This grouping includes small business, big business, and international trade associations, as well as chambers of commerce. Business associations, which have gone from Republican-leaning to overwhelmingly Republican in recent years, lobby on issues like labor laws, intellectual property, product safety, and taxes. These groups spent a combined $121.5 million in 2021, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by far the biggest spender at $66.4 million. The group, which represents 3 million businesses and is funded by some of the largest U.S. corporations, has made tort reform limiting plaintiffs' rights and civil damage awards its top priority. Another key issue is corporate tax reform, including taxation of U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies.
Oil and Gas: $2,562,503,870
The oil and gas industry has historically supported legislators from fossil fuel states who share its views on the importance of cutting taxes and regulations. Since 2021, the industry has been engaged in a debate about who is to blame for high energy prices, arguing over-regulation is to blame rather than companies' refusal to invest in increased output. The industry spent $119.3 million in 2021, with closely held Koch Industries setting the pace at $12.2 million, followed by Occidental Petroleum's Corp.'s (OXY) $10.9 million.
Hospitals/Nursing Homes: $2,087,444,082
This category includes all healthcare institutions: hospitals, nursing homes, hospice providers, and drug and alcohol inpatient centers. The industry has tended to favor Democrats, joining them in pushing for expanded Medicare and Medicaid coverage, though hospitals opposed the Medicare for All plan. The industry has benefited from generous treatment in COVID-19 pandemic relief legislation, while rejecting blame for surprise medical bills. Healthcare institutions spent $118.6 million on lobbying and campaign contributions in 2021, with the American Hospital Association by far the largest spender at $25.1 million.
Miscellaneous Manufacturing and Distributing: $2,072,054,831
This category includes leading industrials like Honeywell International Inc. (HON) and General Electric Company (GE), along with top consumer companies including Procter & Gamble (PG) and Nike Inc. (NKE). Its lobbying interests reflect this diversity, while contributions consistently favor Republicans. The companies and industry associations grouped here spent $105.1 million in 2021, led by the National Association of Manufacturers with $15.3 million.
Which Groups Spend the Most on Lobbying?
In 2021, the groups that spent the most on lobbying were the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Realtors, Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, and Business Roundtable. Meta and Amazon were the companies with the highest spending.
What Is the Main Purpose of Lobbying?
The main purpose of lobbying is to influence legislation or regulation in favor of a company or industry.
How Much Does Pfizer Spend on Lobbying?
In 2021, Pfizer spent $10.3 million on lobbying. It was the fourth-largest political spender within the pharmaceutical/health product industry.
The Bottom Line
Lobbying is a way for industries and companies to influence legislation in their favor. It is a big part of the U.S. political system, with many industry associations and corporations contributing to the campaigns of politicians and political parties looking after their interests.