WASHINGTON -- Lobbying expenditures for large pro-business lobbying groups soared in the last quarter of 2012, driven by election-year politics, the lame-duck congressional session's increased legislation, and the fiscal cliff showdown, according to newly released data analyzed by the Center for Public Integrity.
The nonpartisan research group found that approximately half of the 100 biggest-spending lobbying organizations shelled out more money to influence the federal government in the last three months of 2012 than in the previous three months. Among those same 100, about half increased overall spending on lobbying in 2012.
The data contradicts the longstanding pattern of companies and trade groups spending less money on lobbying during election years, when members of Congress are busy campaigning, than in off years, when more legislation typically gets passed.
Leading the pack in annual spending was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest pro-business advocacy group. In 2012, the chamber's lobbying spending topped $125 million, an 88 percent increase from the previous year. The lobbying figure doesn't include more than $36 million the group spent influencing the 2012 elections ($28 million of which funded attack ads against Democrats).
Another lobbying outfit that set a new record in 2012 was the National Association of Realtors, which spent $41.5 million lobbying Congress and the Obama administration, according to data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics. Of that, $15.4 million, or about 35 percent, was spent in the last three months of the year. The real estate group also spent more than $9.5 million on the 2012 elections, including about $6 million to boost Republican candidates.
Other business interests stood out for how much more they spent in the last quarter of 2012 than they did in the period from July to October. This largely reflected debates on Capitol Hill. The Business Roundtable upped lobbying in the fourth quarter by $800,000, to $4.8 million. Financial industry giant JPMorgan Chase spent $8.8 million lobbying last year, and more than $3.3 million was in the fourth quarter.
Despite high spending by major influence groups, less money ended up in the hands of K Street lobbying firms than in the past, according to lobbying disclosure data. The decline in 2012 continues a trend away from firms that had experienced rocketing growth in the past decade.
It's difficult to gauge the effectiveness of lobbying spending in 2012, because Congress and the White House have yet to hammer out key pieces of a broader budget agreement, notably the spending cuts demanded by congressional Republicans. Throughout the fiscal cliff crisis in December, lobbyists for the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable maintained a visible presence on Capitol Hill, helping to craft Republican positions and to pressure lawmakers.
As for their election spending, groups like the Chamber of Commerce -- which backed Republicans in Senate races -- were on the losing end of the 2012 elections. For the chamber, political spending on losing Senate races topped $20 million.