Lobbying Frenzy Unleashed On Capitol Hill By Massive Pool Of Corona-Stimulus Money

Authored by Karl Evers-Hillstrom via OpenSecrets.org

Washington lobbying firms are finding new clients as businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic race to influence government policy.

Lobbying firms registered activity for over 140 new clients on issues related to COVID-19 over the last month. More than two-thirds of those clients have never lobbied at the federal level or had not hired lobbyists in recent years.

The influx of new lobbying activity indicates that K Street isn’t being slowed by the coronavirus pandemic. Rather, the widespread rush to influence the government’s response to the virus — and to access its massive pool of stimulus money — is creating new opportunities for Washington lobbyists. 

Six Flags hired federal lobbyists for the first time since 2005 to request assistance for the shuttered amusement park industry. New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House hired its first lobbyists to ask for financial relief. Casino operator Penn National Gaming asked for gaming industry support in its first lobbying campaign in seven years.

Many of these lobbying clients likely never thought they would need government relief. But with the coronavirus pandemic crippling entire sectors of the economy, companies are scrambling for access to taxpayer-funded loans and grants. Others have pushed the federal government to label their businesses essential. 

Lobbyists are seen as a vehicle to get that federal help.

Some of the new lobbying efforts have yielded industry victories. Lobbyists representing for-profit hospitals and physician staffing firms successfully lobbied Congress to keep “surprise” medical billing protections out of the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill, the Daily Beast reported.

Brownstein, Hyatt, the top earning lobbying firm in 2019, took on investor-owned hospital operator Tenet Healthcare and private equity-owned physician staffing firm Envision Healthcare as new clients in March. Envision Healthcare has increased its lobbying spending to fight surprise billing legislation and is one of the funders behind a multi-million dollar ad campaign to pressure lawmakers over the issue.

Many of the lobbying firms attracting new clients are known to sell their connections to President Donald TrumpLed by Trump fundraiser Marc Lampkin, Brownstein, Hyatt brought in 13 new clients to lobby on COVID-19 relief packages in March. Real estate investment firm Colony Capital, run by Trump adviser Tom Barrack, is one of its several high-profile clients that have never hired lobbyists in the past.

Trump fundraiser Brian Ballard is finding new clients, too. In late March, the Department of Homeland Security updated its list of “critical” industries to recommend that laundromats and county recorder offices can remain open. That’s after Ballard’s firm lobbied the agency on behalf of New York laundry machine supplier Laundrylux and title insurance company Fidelity National Financial, which pushed for the changes.

Ballard Partners also began lobbying for Secure Democracy, a group pushing for expanded voting amid Trump’s opposition to vote-by-mail.

Miller Strategies, another Trump-tied firm, is lobbying for NanoPure, LLC, a little known company pitching a hand-held test for infectious diseases like COVID-19. Inovio Pharmaceuticals hired former White House aide Robert Wasinger of McGuireWoods to advocate for its coronavirus vaccine.

Lobbying firms and their clients must file first-quarter lobbying reports by April 20. Those will reveal how much businesses spent to influence government policy during the first three months of 2020. Total lobbying spending is expected to be high, as every major industry affected by the coronavirus pandemic pushed to get their favored provisions into the stimulus bill.

Researcher Dan Auble contributed to this report.