Map Light

Corporate trade groups and nonprofits are spending more in Washington for advocacy and strategic communications than for lobbying, according to a study by MapLight, the Berkeley-based watchdog.

Studying the tax returns of 100 trade organizations and nonprofits, MapLight identified $535M spent for lobbying in 2017 and $675M for unregulated efforts to influence public policy.

That unregulated spending was listed as “consulting,” “advocacy,” “government affairs,” “coalitions,” “contributions,” “consortiums,” “special projects” “dues,” “memberships,” “subscriptions,” “programs” and “advocacy” expenses.

Those outlays allow business interests to exploit loopholes in lobbying rules that fail to cover staples of modern influence campaigns, such as strategic consulting, broadcast advertising, media relations, social media posts, polling and financing of astroturf campaigns, according to MapLight, which is dedicated to promoting “a more responsive, accountable, and representative democracy."

According to Internal Revenue Service rules, companies can give cash to trade groups to run campaigns on their behalf.

MapLight cites the $100M-plus push by the US Chamber of Commerce on behalf of private health insurers against ObamaCare as the most successful example of secretive trade group spending,

Though ObamaCare become law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act did not include a “public option,” which was fiercely opposed by private insurers.

MapLight calls advocacy spending “the darkest money in Washington.”