The Obamacare Lobbying Bonanza



Back in 2006, when President Obama was still a Senator, he spoke at a summit on lobbying reform. His remarks were quite critical of Republicans, noting that "we've seen the number of registered lobbyists in Washinton double since George Bush came into office." He condemned the practice of letting lobbyists write legislation, and slammed Republicans for their ties to the lobbying world. "For years now, [the GOP has] openly bragged about stocking K Street lobbying firms with former leadership staffers to increase their power in Washington."

These days, Obama and his fellow Democrats aren't exactly bragging about ties between his party and the lobbying industry. But his administration, along with Democrats in Conrgess, have helped facilitate it all the same.

The 2010 health care overhaul, in particular, has meant big business for well-connected lobbying firms—and numerous trips through the revolving door for the former administration and congressional staffers who can help make those firms even better connected still. 

The sheer amount of lobbying that surrounds the law is pretty staggering. A Reuters report offers some context:

A Reuters review of lobbying records found that more than 500 companies, business groups, consumer advocates, unions and other organizations weighed in on the Affordable Care Act during the second quarter of this year.

A typical issue in Washington attracts 15 interest groups at any one time, according to research by Beth Leech, a Rutgers University political science professor who has written three books about lobbying. At the height of political debate over the law, just before Congress passed the legislation in March 2010, more than 1,000 stakeholders lobbied on the bill.

"The Affordable Care Act, from beginning to end, has had an extraordinary amount of lobbying," said Leech. "All these rules are being made for the first time, so there's a great urgency to have that first rule be a rule you like."

And the best way to do that is to have someone who knows the system—and its players—from the inside. Which is why so many former health care staffers are now working as lobbyists. Via The Hill:

More than 30 former administration officials, lawmakers and congressional staffers who worked on the healthcare law have set up shop on K Street since 2010.

Major lobbying firms such as Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, The Glover Park Group, Alston & Bird, BGR Group and Akin Gump can all boast an ObamaCare insider on their lobbying roster — putting them in a prime position to land coveted clients.

…Veterans of the healthcare push are now lobbying for corporate giants such as Delta Airlines, UPS, BP America and Coca-Cola, and for healthcare companies including GlaxoSmithKline, UnitedHealth Group and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

Ultimately, the clients are after one thing: expert help in dealing with the most sweeping overhaul of the country's healthcare system in decades. 

"Healthcare lobbying on K Street is as strong as it ever was, and it's due to the fact that the Affordable Care Act seems to be ever-changing," Adler said. "What's at stake is huge. … Whenever there's a lot of money at stake, there's a lot of lobbying going on."

Obama's 2006 speech lamented that "in 2004, over $2.1 billion was spent lobbying Congress." Total lobbying spending in 2010, the year the health care law passed, was $3.55 billion—the highest annual total ever. Seems like there might be a connection between sweeping, complicated laws that reshape the financial incentives of major industries and lobbying designed to influence exactly how those incentives are aligned, no?