Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, gives his annual… (Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg )
Reporting from Washington — Washington's political gridlock has at least one advantage: It allowed businesses and interest groups to reduce their lobbying spending last year, the first time that's happened in more than a decade.
Overall lobbying expenditures were $3.27 billion in 2011, down from $3.51 billion the year before, according to a preliminary analysis of disclosure forms by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. It marked the first time since 1999 that year-over-year lobbying spending dropped in Washington.
Lobbying hit a high-water mark in 2010 as Congress finished work on two massive bills overhauling healthcare and financial regulations. With power split in Washington last year -- Democrats control the White House and Senate, while Republicans have a majority in the House -- major legislation became much harder to pass and allowed businesses, trade groups, and labor unions to let their spending drop, the center said.
"The political gridlock ... has slowed the flow of money to K Street's hired guns," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the center, which analyzes political spending. "Nevertheless, special interest groups, from the tech industry to public sector unions, continue to hire lobbyists to give them a megaphone in Washington, as well as first-class access and connections."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was the largest lobbying spender in 2011, with $66.4 million. But that was just about half of the $132 million it spent in 2010 when it was helping lead the fight against the Obama administration's healthcare and financial-reform bills.
Still, there was plenty of money thrown around Washington last year as battles emerged on other issues.
The debate over online piracy legislation was a key reason why Google Inc. more than doubled its spending in 2011, to $11.4 million. Overall tech industry spending was up slightly to $125 million, from $122 million in 2010, the center said.
Google and other Internet companies opposed the SOPA and PIPA online piracy bills, which were derailed last week after a broad online protest. Hollywood was strongly pushing those bills, and lobbying spending by the movie, TV and music industry was up in 2011 as well, to $122 million from $111 million.
Spending was also up in 2011 for commercial banks, telecommunications service providers, the mining industry, public-sector unions and advocates of abortion rights, the center said.
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