Lobbying spending at highest levels since 2010

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(By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Gridlock in Washington isn’t stopping the lobbying machine from running smoothly.

Nearly $2.6 billion has been spent on lobbyists so far, the most through three quarters since 2010 and $100 million more than at this point in 2017. Third-quarter spending is up by approximately $30 million over last year.

The National Association of Realtors was the top client, expending a record $26.4 million on lobbying in July through September and far surpassing the $11.1 million it spent in the same three-month period last year. The increased lobbying is due to the upcoming midterm elections and candidates’ support for home ownership and real estate investment, according to the group’s president Elizabeth Mendenhall.

Overall, groups related to finance, insurance and real estate have spent north of $400 million, an increase of more than $23 million over 2017 by this time.

For once, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce came in second place this quarter, spending more than $25 million. Still, the pro-business organization remains on top overall with more than $69 million spent so far in 2018.

Some surprising names reported large expenditures in the third quarter. The George Soros-backed Open Society Policy Center spent $7.7 million in the third and has surpassed $20.5 million overall, more than twice as much as it spent by this point last year. The nonprofit has put its focus on foreign influence and foreign election interference.

California energy giant PG&E Corp came out of nowhere with $6.1 million spent in the third — compared to $2.7 million in the first half — as the utility company is being blamed for wildfires.

Chinese telecommunications company ZTE has more than quadrupled its lobbying spending over last year. It spent $770,000 in the third quarter, after shelling out nearly $1.4 million in the second quarter. The company has spent more than $2.2 million this year — compared to $420,000 by this point in 2017 — in part to get severe U.S. sanctions lifted.

MBIA, which has historically spent next to nothing on lobbying, has spent north of $2 million this cycle. The New York insurance firm — which lost hundreds of millions insuring Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria — poured $1 million into issues related to Puerto Rico debt reform in the third quarter.

The three tech giants Alphabet (nearly $16.8 million through three quarters), Amazon ($10.6 million) and Facebook ($9.8 million) have all spent more year-over-year. Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) had its biggest quarter ever by spending $1.65 million.

The most-lobbied legislation in the third quarter related to Department of Defense appropriations for the 2019 fiscal year, with 569 clients jumping into the debate.

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