The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Prospect of massive economic packages unleashes lobbying bonanza in Washington

Nearly 2,000 companies and other groups have already engaged with Washington officials about infrastructure this year, according to filings, and the intensity is expected to pick up

The bipartisan group of Senate negotiators speak to reporters just after a vote to start work on a nearly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package on July 28. From left: Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Nearly 2,000 companies and organizations have lobbied Congress and the administration this year in an attempt to influence the contours of major new infrastructure spending, an effort that is sure to intensify now that the Senate is hoping to vote within days on their version of the $1 trillion public-works package.

The proposal — along with a still-forming second economic package valued at $3.5 trillion — carries high stakes for corporations that have long pined for infrastructure improvements and other federal spending that would be beneficial to their bottom lines. The first pot of money could be used on a broad range of projects across the country, focusing on efforts to upgrade the nation’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports and Internet connections.

The organizations working to shape the package — ranging from powerful trade associations representing agricultural and energy giants to small-time firms working for cities in Alabama and Kansas — mentioned either “infrastructure” or President Biden’s initial proposal, known as the American Jobs Plan, on their lobbying disclosure forms during the most recent quarter this year, according to an analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group that tracks money and influence in Washington.

Those groups collectively have spent more than $426 million in their lobbying efforts, which includes trying to sway lawmakers and regulators on far more than just infrastructure, the center’s data show. The activity reflects a dramatic uptick from the same period one year ago, when more than 1,300 lobbying operations sought to target Washington on infrastructure. Their total spending on all issues over that period exceeded $291 million.

Already, these lobbyists have secured a number of victories. A push publicly and privately by conservative advocacy groups including FreedomWorks ultimately helped prompt a bipartisan group of senators to halt efforts to increase new funding for the Internal Revenue Service. Some Democrats, along with the Biden administration, had hoped to include the funding boost as a way of beefing up tax enforcement on corporations and the wealthy, and raising government revenue.

“Massive spending bills like infrastructure and reconciliation always offer the potential to reap big rewards for clients,” said Sheila Krumholz, CRP’s executive director. “Now is when lobbyists will be going all out to get in front of members, trying to shape this legislation.”

This year alone, more than 260 companies and other entities large and small have hired new lobbying firms in Washington specifically on infrastructure, according to an analysis of federal ethics records. That includes Arrival, a little-known electric vehicle manufacturer that in April retained a former Senate aide to Biden, Ankit Desai, to lobby on “charging infrastructure for medium and heavy duty electric vehicles,” among other issues.

In a statement provided by a spokeswoman, Arrival’s vice president for public policy, Richard Colley, said the company “works with a broad range of stakeholders to advance the importance of electrifying the transportation sector to address the urgent climate crisis.”

Within corporate America, meanwhile, the lobbying offensive has been expensive and wide ranging. Amazon, whose founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, spent nearly $10 million in the first six months of the year on a slew of lobbyists who worked on issues including “electric vehicle charging infrastructure” and “infrastructure investment legislation,” according to filings. The Global Infrastructure Investor Association, which represents financial firms like Goldman Sachs, Blackstone and Morgan Stanley, lobbied earlier this year on “public-private partnerships in financing state and federal infrastructure,” its disclosures show.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment. Lawrence Slade, CEO of the GIIA, said in a statement provided by a spokesman that the group engages with governments to argue for the role of private capital “in delivering infrastructure that addresses global challenges including climate change, clean energy and digital communication.”

The lobbying barrage serves to underscore the wide-ranging nature of lawmakers’ ambitions as they race to pass two major economic packages in the Senate — all in a matter of weeks.

The first, which targets infrastructure, puts aside roughly $1 trillion for public works projects that touch nearly every sector of the economy. A bipartisan bloc of lawmakers unveiled their proposed legislation on Sunday.

Senate finishing crafting $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure proposal, setting delicate debate in motion

With it, Democrats are finalizing a second measure that includes other categories of spending Biden supports, including new money to expand Medicare, combat climate change and invest in new family and child-care-focused programs. At the request of the White House, lawmakers hope to finance much of this endeavor through tax hikes on corporations and wealthy families, a move that has only hardened Republican opposition to the idea.

The White House has described these two sets of investments as historic, likening the spending Biden seeks — and the changes it can catalyze — to the Great Society and New Deal programs in the shadow of the Great Depression. But the policies also carry high stakes for corporate America, which has long pined for massive federal investments that would be beneficial to their bottom lines.

The delicate dance has been on display since March, when Biden released his $2.2 trillion infrastructure plan that raised much of its funding through tax increases on large corporations. Organizations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the RATE Coalition, a group that represents companies like AT&T, CVS, FedEx and Toyota, saw much to like in spending that would make it easier and faster for them to ship goods. But they also worked to block any effort to roll back the tax cuts enacted under President Donald Trump.

The RATE Coalition hired Forbes Tate Partners to lobby against corporate tax raises, a firm whose lobbyists include former aides to the Senate’s top tax-focused committee. One of the group’s leading advisers is Blanche Lincoln, a former Democratic senator from Arkansas who served with Biden in the Senate.

Senate negotiators ultimately have sidestepped the issue for now, omitting any tax increases as part of the $1 trillion infrastructure proposal they began debating on the floor Sunday. But the fight over corporate rates is likely to resurface, as Biden and his Democratic allies seek to raise taxes on corporations and wealthy families as part of their upcoming $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.

“As Congress continues to discuss the various ways to fund vital infrastructure investments, I hope my former colleagues will refrain from jeopardizing the jobs generated by America’s globally competitive corporate tax rate — particularly on the heels of a historic economic crisis and our ongoing fight against covid-19,” Lincoln said in a statement. “Any corporate rate hike would position the United States even further behind global competitors like China, and carry alarming consequences for job-creating businesses and the workers they employ.”

For now, though, the absence of tax increases in infrastructure reform has helped lessen the industry opposition. The Chamber even helped launch a coordinated Washington effort to push the legislation called the Coalition for Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment, which brought together labor unions as well as business groups like the National Association of Manufacturers, which represents companies such as Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil, Caterpillar and Pfizer.

“We’re going to continue to push until this thing gets done,” said Ed Mortimer, vice president of transportation and infrastructure at the Chamber in a recent interview. “This coalition is singularly focused on coming to an agreement on infrastructure.”

The corporate support for the infrastructure plan has left some liberal lawmakers uneasy, feeling as though businesses are trying to escape any new financial responsibilities. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) pointed to some of the emerging infrastructure bill’s provisions, such as beneficial bond financing and the possible leasing of public infrastructure to private entities, as a potential giveaway that she said should be “very concerning and should be concerning to every American.”

“Bipartisan doesn’t always mean that it’s in the interests of the public good, frankly,” she said this weekend on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding: “Sometimes, there’s a lot of corporate lobbyist giveaways in some of these bills.”

Lawmakers have included a wide variety of additional funding mechanisms in their bill. They have proposed recovering money from past coronavirus aid programs, for example, and put forward new efforts to collect unpaid taxes from cryptocurrency brokers and investors. Their plan also proposes higher fees on chemical manufacturers to help clean up highly polluted “superfund” sites.

Taken together, Democrats and Republicans insist that they can raise enough revenue to cover the full cost of the roughly $1 trillion package — a contention some experts dispute. The financing is critical to lawmakers from both parties on Capitol Hill, some of whom seem disinclined to support a bill that adds to the federal deficit.

But those funding mechanisms have touched off their own lobbying barrage among affected industries.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents companies including 3M, Dow, Dupont and ExxonMobil, has taken particular aim at a portion of the infrastructure package that would raise the country’s so-called superfund tax. The group has sought to stave off a renewal of those fees, which expired in 1995, arguing it would hurt oil and chemical companies and that they shouldn’t be the only industry forced to pay for the wide array of new public-works spending.

“This is a single tax on a single industry,” said Chris Jahn, the president and CEO of the council. “No other industry that benefits from this bill is being asked to bear that burden.”

Shortly after Democrats and Republicans released their blueprint for infrastructure reform in June, the council’s top aides met with White House officials and began canvassing Capitol Hill. In its lobbying burst, the trade association has argued that the extension of the superfund fee technically violates the parties’ pledges not to raise taxes on corporations or Americans making under $400,000, arguing its imposition would force members to raise their prices.

“Whether it’s a car or consumer electronics or paint or building materials, all these things are made with chemicals that are [potentially] being taxed,” said Ross Eisenberg, the vice president of federal affairs at the ACC.

Noting the approach is “perverse in a way,” Eisenberg added the lobbying would continue as lawmakers proceed with debate. “We’ve carried out a very robust congressional education campaign to … educate members of Congress on this package,” he said.