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First Months of 2011 Yield a Lobbying Slump? Not Necessarily

Lobbying disclosures this week have spurred a flurry of stories about how the pace of lobbying has slowed in the first few months of 2011.

The reports note that spending by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which typically tops the list for lobbying expenditures, dropped to $10.9 million in the first quarter of the year, down from the $25.1 million it spent in the same quarter last year. This supposed ‘slump,’ however, may be due more to the fact that last year was both an election year and a year of record spending—particularly on the health care law, which the Chamber fiercely opposed. (Spending on health care lobbying has slowed overall since Congress passed the health care law last year, The Hill notes.) The group spent about as much—in the neighborhood of $10 million—in the first quarters of 2008 and 2009.

Meanwhile, a slew of other businesses have redoubled their lobbying efforts.

Communications giants AT&T and Comcast increased their activity, OpenSecrets reported, as did tech companies Google and Facebook. Facebook more than quadrupled its first quarter spending this year in what appears to be part of a broad push to make political inroads. According to its disclosures, privacy issues, net neutrality, patent reform were areas of interest. Google also lobbied on the issues of privacy, international tax reform and antitrust, among other issues.

BP and its contractor Transocean also spent more on lobbying as they neared the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The former increased its first quarter spending by 25 percent over the same period last year. (It’s also recently resumed giving political donations, most of which have gone to Republicans.)

During this time, top spenders in the financial industry also upped their lobbying expenditures by about 3 percent from the same period last year, according to the Wall Street Journal. Those efforts largely focused on regulations mandated by the financial reform bill that the firms hope to amend, delay, or kill. Here’s the Journal:

Wells Fargo & Co. shelled out more on lobbying than any other financial firm, surpassing J.P. Morgan Chase, which had the top spot in 2010. Wells Fargo's lobbying expenditures nearly doubled to $1.9 million during the first quarter from $1 million in the same period a year ago. A Wells Fargo spokeswoman declined to comment.

Disclosure documents show the financial industry turned its attention to regulators and executive-branch agencies in charge of implementing Dodd-Frank, and reflect the dozens of meetings the industry has held with officials at the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and others.

Finally, it’s worth noting that lobbying disclosures don’t give the full picture. For instance, not all the work that K Street firms do for their clients on regulatory matters has to be reported as lobbying. The Hill notes that much of it involves legal work that is exempt from disclosure.

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