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Lobbying spending at $3.4 billion in 2018, the highest in 8 years; Podesta Group re-emerges, marijuana and pharma top

After a lull in spending, 2018 was a banner year for lobbying firms. Groups and individuals spent $3.42 billion on lobbying in 2018, the largest sum since the all-time peak in 2010, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, first reported here on OpenSecrets.org.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce comes in as the top spender, as it has every year since 2000, spending nearly $95 million. The National Association of Realtors finished in second place with a record spending total of nearly $73 million.

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) finally surpassed its 2009 lobbying record, shelling out $28 million in 2018. Pharmaceutical groups are spending heavily to influence public opinion and policy as rising drug prices become an increasingly mainstream political talking point and a target of President Trump. The industry claimed the top spot among lobbying spenders in 2018 — roughly $280 million — with no other industry coming close.

Conservative groups grew their spending by 78 percent and liberal groups’ spending declined by 35 percent. Groups related to Savings and Loans (61 percent increase over 2017) and Marijuana (55 percent) underwent a massive jump in spending.

Several individual clients ramped up their lobbying substantially. George Soros’ Open Society Policy Center saw the biggest change year over year, spending $31.5 million in 2018 and nearly doubling its 2017 total of $16.1 million.

Several new firms, formed from former members of the once mighty but now defunct Podesta Group, made an impact right away, including Klein/Johnson Group ($2 million) and Cogent Strategies ($3.4 million).

How lobbying has changed through the years. Note that while the number of lobbyists has gone down since a spike during the Bush years, spending continues to rise annually.
Top bills targeted by lobbyist spending in 2018. Source
Top contributors in 2018: note appearance of Google, YouTube (Alphabet), Facebook, Amazon. Source
Top recipients of 2018. Source

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