The amount of money spent lobbying Congress and federal agencies topped $697 million for the first six months of 1999--or $116 million per month--according to a report by an Internet company that tracks political spending.

The health care industry led the pack, spending $95.5 million fighting for its issues, edging out the communications and technology sector, which spent $94.6 million. They were followed by the finance and insurance industry, $89.8 million; energy and natural resources, $71 million; transportation, $57.7 million; business and retail services, $51.4 million; manufacturing, $36.7 million; agriculture, $34.8 million; and single-issue groups, $26.7 million.

The totals are based on the lobbying expenses and fees disclosed in reports filed by groups and individual lobbyists with Congress and tallied by FECInfo, a subsidiary of Netivation.com, an Internet public policy and health care technology company.

While $697 million is a hefty sum, it actually represents a slight decline from the last six months of 1998, when $709 million was spent on federal lobbying. It also was less than what was spent in the first half of 1998--$710 million--as reported by the Center for Responsive Politics. (FECInfo didn't study the first half of 1998.)

But Kent Cooper, a co-founder of FECInfo, and others say the numbers would be much higher if special interests and individual lobbyists included money spent on advertising, grass-roots organizing, state lobbying and other expenses that aren't required to be disclosed by law.

The "key" fact, according to Cooper, is the spending of "more than 100 million bucks a month. What does it mean to the average person? Where do they fit into the picture? Are they [lobbyists] edging out the average person?"

Some observers say the slight drop in 1999 may have resulted from the lack of legislative action during the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton.

Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution and Wright Andrews, former president of the American League of Lobbyists, add that much of the spending on some issues, such as banking, which underwent a major legislative overhaul last year, probably was done in earlier years to get the industry on the congressional agenda.

"It was a funny year," Andrews said.

The tobacco industry also reduced overall lobbying spending, cutting its outlays in the first half of 1999 by almost 50 percent. Cigarette companies shelled out $12.2 million, compared with $22.2 million in the last half of 1998. The prior two years, 1997 and 1998, were times of major legislative activity for the industry; 1999 might have represented a return to business as usual.

According to FECInfo, the organizations spending the most on lobbying during the first half of 1999 included the American Medical Association, $8.8 million; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, $8.4 million; Philip Morris Management Corp., $7.5 million; Edison Electric Institute, $5.5 million; and Boeing Co., $4.9 million.

The leading lobbying shops included Cassidy & Associates, $10 million, 124 clients; Patton Boggs, $9.2 million, 245 clients; and Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, $7.3 million, 118 clients.

A Hoosier in Tech Land

Jeff Modisett will be stepping down from his elected post as Indiana attorney general within the next few weeks to become vice president and general counsel of TechNet, a leading high-tech industry lobbying group.

Elected in 1996, Modisett, 45, a Democrat, has been active in the states' battles against the tobacco industry and litigation against the sweepstakes industry.

"As Indiana's attorney general, Jeff Modisett has been a tenacious advocate for consumers. TechNet will depend on his expertise to find effective ways to provide all Americans with the tools and skills they need to participate in the New Economy," Roberta Katz, chief executive of TechNet, said in a statement.

For his part, Modisett said, "The opportunity to work hand in hand with the leaders of Silicon Valley and the nation to help formulate law and policy in cyberspace is too good to pass up."

While TechNet is a bipartisan group, Modisett's ties to Democrats--he's been tapped to be general counsel to the party's 2000 national convention and he's close to Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.)--may make him an important link between Democratic lawmakers and Silicon Valley.

New Surroundings

Van Ness Feldman, a law firm that specializes in energy, environment and natural resources issues, has snagged J. Curtis Rich, former legislative counsel at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, who joins the firm as of counsel.

Rich served as natural resource and energy counsel to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) before he joined the association.

Gary Lytle, at Ameritech for 32 years, most recently as vice president of federal relations, has formed his own consulting shop, Lytle Consulting, of course. One of his first lobbying clients: SBC Communications Inc., which acquired Ameritech in October.

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