U.S. lobbying spending drops after 11 years of gains

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Businesses, labor unions and others reduced their spending on lobbying last year for the first time in a decade amid political gridlock in the U.S. capital, but still poured billions of dollars into their efforts, figures released on Thursday showed.

Lobbyists have echoed that sentiment, saying there was less demand among clients for help with legislation in 2011.

They say some spending on lobbying likely shifted toward trying to influence regulatory actions, activity that advocates for disclosure say may be less subject to formal reporting.

Businesses, labor unions and other interests have so far reported spending about $3.27 billion in 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The nonpartisan center tracks spending based on mandated disclosure reports filed with the U.S. Congress, and it advocates for more disclosure.

By comparison, spending was $3.51 billion in 2010.

The center said its 2011 total might rise as reports that were due last Friday trickle in, but the center said it did not expect the final total to exceed 2010’s.

The expected decline reflects less activity in Congress, which is in a slow period after passing major legislation in 2009 and 2010, the center said. Also, some lobbying reports include spending on election-related advertisements, and there were no national U.S. elections in 2011.

“The political gridlock in the 112th Congress has slowed the flow of money to K Street’s hired guns,” said Sheila Krumholz, the center’s executive director. K Street Northwest is home to many of the U.S. capital’s lobbying firms.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose members include a wide swath of corporations, continued to be the biggest lobbying force, spending $44.2 million in 2011. But that dropped from $100.2 million in 2010, a midterm election year when the chamber spent heavily on organizing and advertisements.

Not all corporations spent less. Google Inc more than doubled its lobbying, with $11.4 million spent last year, the center said. The National Association of Realtors and energy company ConocoPhilips also reported record lobbying spending for the year.

The number of registered lobbyists dropped for the fourth straight year. There were 12,592 lobbyists on federal filings in 2011, down from a high of 14,856 in 2007, the center said.

Reporting by Patrick Temple-West and David Ingram; Editing by Howard Goller and Peter Cooney