You are here


CEO DATELINE – Report: Associations spend more on influence peddling than lobbying

Aug. 7, 2019
By Walt Williams

Want more news?

Consider joining CEO Update. Membership gives full access to the latest intelligence on association management, career advancement, compensation trends and networking events, as well as hundreds of listings for senior-level association jobs.

Click here for membership details.

Business groups and associations spent more on unregulated efforts to influence policy in 2017 than on actual lobbying, according to an analysis of financial disclosure data by the nonprofit watchdog group MapLight.

MapLight reviewed the tax records of more than 100 trade associations and other nonprofits to see where they were spending money. The groups spent $535 million on lobbying in the time period analyzed. However, they spent $675 million on what MapLight labeled as unregulated advocacy efforts, such as communications and consulting. The group also counted spending related to memberships, dues and subscriptions as unregulated advocacy activity, but didn’t spell out why.

“Under IRS rules, trade associations can give millions to other organizations to run campaigns on their behalf without disclosing the recipients,” MapLight reported. “Some of the most high-profile legislation of the last decade has been influenced by secretive trade group spending.”

MapLight noted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce raised almost $160 million in 2017 while the American Petroleum Institute raised $206 million that same year. The group also raised questions the used of payments for advocacy listed as “other fees for services" or "other expenses” on tax forms, suggesting the vague language disguises the true purpose of the expenses.

The report was researched in conjunction with the left-leaning news sites The Intercept and Tarbell.