Which Industry Spends the Most on Lobbying?

In the U.S. political system, lobbying is par for the course. It has come to be expected that major industries, and the leading corporations in those industries, will seek to influence legislation, regulation, and the enforcement of government decisions, such that they receive preferential treatment.

This could come in the form of campaign contributions, or actual lobbying, with a lobbyist working on behalf of the corporation that has paid them to influence a particular vote or governmental decision. What it is they are lobbying for, though, is a more involved question. 

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. 

Key Takeaways

  • Companies and industries in the United States will lobby government officials to influence them to act in ways that benefit the lobby's interests.
  • Lobbyists for corporations or industries might seek to sway officials regarding legislation, regulations, and the enforcement of government decisions.
  • The pharmaceutical and health products industry has spent the most money of all industries in lobbying spending.
  • Other industries that spend heavily on lobbying efforts include insurance, electric utilities, electronics manufacturing, and business associations.

Pharmaceuticals/Health Products: $4,951,696,278

Spending $4.95 billion over the past 23 years, the pharmaceutical and health products industry has far outpaced all other industries in lobbying spending. It's important to note that this industry includes not only drug manufacturers but also the sellers of medical products and nutritional and dietary supplements. In 2021, spending has been topped by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America at $22.9 million.

1,600 (59.19%)

The number of pharmaceutical/health product lobbyists in the United States and the percentage that are former government employees as of Sept. 30, 2021.

Overall, the industry is primarily concerned with "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.” As is to be expected, lobbying efforts reached a fever pitch in 2009, around the drafting of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Insurance: $3,212,091,113

Including health, property, and car insurance companies, along with agents and brokers, the insurance industry has historically been the second most generous/aggressive industry in lobbying for their interests. In 2021, spending was $111 million. Following the passage of the ACA and subsequent developments under the Trump administration, health insurance companies have been very involved in the legislative process, looking to influence new regulations. In 2021, the leading insurance industry lobbyist corporation was Blue Cross/Blue Shield with $13.4 million in contributions.

Electronics Manufacturing and Equipment: $2,788,778,841

These are your classic software and hardware computer tech companies, some of the founders of the tech movement that exists today. As this industry has become increasingly profitable, its political contributions have increased. The industry is relatively non-partisan, usually given to each party evenly, with slight favoring to the party in the White House.

Given the ubiquity of hardware and software, and tech more generally, it makes sense that lobbying from the electronics sector is varied, with lobbying efforts on homeland security, taxes, copyright, immigration, human rights, cybersecurity, and law enforcement data storage. As of Sept. 30, 2021, the top lobbying spender was Oracle with $8.7 million in contributions.

Electric Utilities: $2,739,876,658

The electric utility industry monitors legislative and regulatory action taken on a number of fronts, including clean air regulation, waste storage, cybersecurity, and infrastructure. The top lobbyist in electric utilities as of Sept. 30, 2021, is Edison Electric Institute with $6.9 million in contributions.

Business Associations: $2,622,933,997

This grouping includes small business, pro-business, and international trade associations, as well as chambers of commerce. Business associations lobby on issues like labor regulations, intellectual property, product safety, and taxes, but mostly, lobbying efforts have focused on civil justice system reform.

Business associations want to make sure that damages awarded to plaintiffs involving torts or wrongful acts that led to legal liabilities are limited (asbestos, medical malpractice, etc.). Other important legal issues include business tax reform, including corporate tax policy and taxation of U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies. The top business association lobbyist in 2021 has been the U.S Chamber of Commerce with $46.4 million in contributions.

Oil and Gas: $2,493,422,698

As you might imagine, the oil and gas lobbying sector is one of the most active lobbying groups. Lobbying efforts have historically focused on promoting legislators with pro-energy views in the areas of fossil fuel production. As of Sept. 30, 2021, the top lobbying spenders in the industry were Koch Industries, Royal Dutch, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil.

Miscellaneous Manufacturing and Distributing: $2,014,112,186

With spending over $2 billion in lobbying efforts over the past 23 years, miscellaneous manufacturing and distributing is an influential force in legislation and governmental regulation. The sector has members like Honeywell International, General Electric, Cummins Inc., 3M, and Procter & Gamble, and its lobbying interests and efforts reflect this wide array. Having spent $10.9 in 2021, the National Association of Manufacturers is the industry’s top lobbyist.

Hospitals/ Nursing Homes: $2,013,333,323

This category includes all healthcare institutions: hospitals, nursing homes, hospice providers, and drug and alcohol inpatient centers. Lobbying in this industry was especially active in 2009 and again in 2017 with legislative actions involving health care and the Affordable Care Act.

At present, lobbyist efforts in the sector are generally focused on fighting insurers over surprise medical bills and legislation to expand healthcare coverage with Medicaid and Medicare. The leading spender in 2021 was the American Hospital Association with $17.6 million in contributions. 

What Companies Spend the Most on Lobbying?

As of 2020, the companies that spent the most on lobbying were the National Association of Realtors, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and the American Hospital Association.

What Is the Main Purpose of Lobbying?

The main purpose of lobbying is to influence legislation in favor of a company or industry. No one individual would have the power to change or preserve legislation but through lobbying, industries can come together to pool their capital to make sure that the laws created by the government work in their favor.

How Much Does Pfizer Spend on Lobbying?

In 2020, Pfizer spent $10.9 million on lobbying. It was the fifth-largest association/corporation in the pharmaceutical/health product industry in terms of lobbying contributions.

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, as many industry associations and companies contribute to the campaigns of politicians and political parties to ensure that their best interests will be looked after. The practice of lobbying has constantly come into question as many citizens believe that it changes legislation to favor big business as opposed to the average citizen.

Article Sources

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