In the American 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. 1998 to March 31, 2020. 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.
  • Over the past 22 years, 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: $4,450,373,773

Spending $4.45 billion over the past 22 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. From Jan. 2020 through March 2020, spending was topped by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and Pfizer Inc.

Overall, the industry is primarily concerned with "resisting government-run health care, ensuring a quicker approval process for drugs and products entering the market, and strengthening intellectual property protections.” In recent years, lobbying has focused more specifically “on the patent system, research funding, and Medicare.” As is to be expected, lobbying efforts reached a fever pitch in 2009, around the drafting of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and reported a high in 2017 with legislative enactments again focusing on changes to health care.

1,227 (62.9%)

The number of pharmaceutical/health product lobbyists in the United States and the percentage that are former government employees as of March 2020.

Insurance: $2,973,247,470

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 2019, spending was $155.3 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 2019, the leading insurance industry lobbyist corporation was Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

Electric Utilities: $2,567,713,347

The electric utilities 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 March 2020 is Duke Energy.

Electronics Manufacturing and Equipment: $2,501,822,021

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 March 2020, the top lobbying spenders were Qualcomm Inc and Microsoft Corp. 

Business Associations: $2,454,165,598

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 2019 was the U.S Chamber of Commerce.

Oil & Gas: $2,317,233,106

As you might imagine, the oil and gas lobbying sector is one of the most active lobbying groups. Lobbyist efforts have historically focused on promoting legislators with pro-energy views in the areas of fossil fuel production, commodity exploration, and extraction. As of March 2020, the top lobbying spenders in the industry were Chevron Corp, Koch Industries, and Exxon Mobil.

Miscellaneous Manufacturing and Distributing: $1,878,785,962

With spending of nearly $1.9 billion in lobbying efforts over the past 22 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 $3.4 million from Jan. 2020 through March 2020, the National Association of Manufacturers is the industry’s top lobbyist.

Hospitals/ Nursing Homes: $1,794,639,211

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 cost management, insurance allocations, spending on employee training, prevention of physician pay reductions, and costs associated with Medicaid and Medicare. The leading spender from Jan. 2020 through March 2020 was the American Hospital Association, with $7.2 million. 

Education: $1,772,523,038

Political contributions and lobbying efforts from the education industry come mostly from individual educators or administrators, as educational institutions are not usually able to form political action committees (PACs). Areas of interest for educators and education lobbyists include the federal budget (allocations for research money, programs, and student aid) and student loans, and specifically the Student Loan Fairness Act, which prevented student loans from doubling when the congressional agreement expired. Lobbyists in the education sector spent $82.2 million in 2019 with the Association of American Medical Colleges coming in as a top spender.