“Drain the Swamp! Drain the Swamp! Drain the Swamp!” That was the catch phrase that Donald Trump and thousands of his supporters chanted during rallies while he ran for president last year.
The phrase was part of a political and ethical set of reforms for Washington, D.C. that Trump proposed, including stricter limitations on lobbying and a constitutional amendment imposing term limits on members of Congress. Trump talked about how the political system was rigged towards the wealthy and well-connected at the expense of those with fewer means. He spoke at length about lobbyists moving between the federal government, political campaigns, and the private sector, all of which combined make “the swamp.”
So what is the current state of lobbying in Washington 10 months into his presidency?
Well, the latest numbers show that lobbying groups in D.C. spent less money and reported fewer lobbyists during the third quarter of 2017 than any other quarter since at least 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a nonpartisan research group tracking money and lobbying in elections. CRP only started tracking lobbying totals in 2008.
President Trump and his policies may not necessarily be the cause, but the fact of the matter is that according to CRP “the decline in both spending and registered lobbyists was dramatic even for the slow months.”
“From July 1 to September 30, companies and organizations spent about $754 million on lobbying, a quarterly low. There were also 9,200 registered lobbyists, or about 800 fewer than the previous three-month period,” CRP said in a report last week.
If you were to read the headlines from various mainstream news publications regarding lobbying, this quarter’s latest numbers are not accounted for. Just in the past couple of weeks, The Hill wrote a piece titled ‘Boom times: Lobbyists riding high in the Trump era,’ while Bloomberg reported about the tech industry pouring “Millions Into Lobbying While Pressure Mounts in Washington.’
However despite this historic low in spending for the quarter, CRP’s data suggests that 2017 lobbying spending is on pace to pass 2016 totals due to higher spending during the first six months of this year. At this point last year $2.38 billion had been spent on lobbying, while this year the lobbying world has spent approximately $2.43 billion.”
Everybody–from The Atlantic and POLITICO to even Steve Bannon’s Breitbart–has criticized the president’s ability to drain the swamp. Breitbart argues in one article that Scott Pruitt is undermining Trump’s attempts to drain the EPA and in another story says that it will take a very long time to really drain the swamp, longer than the time Trump has in office.
Even if this quarter’s lobbying numbers are unusually low, the reporting on Trump’s White House and cabinet picks keeping the “revolving door” spinning are accurate. The Daily Beast reported earlier this week, “More Than 50% of President Trump’s Nominees Have Ties to the Industries They’re Supposed to Regulate,” making the point that Trump has allegedly given power within federal agencies to the very executives, lobbyists, and lawyers the government is supposed to regulate.
It should also be noted that although overall spending on lobbying and the number of lobbyists has declined recently, some top firms like Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Roberti Global have reported millions in billings, with an increase from past quarters.
Large industries that have historically lobbied heavily in Washington continue to spend lavishly on K Street. Pharmaceutical companies and health products spent $62.2 million, which is the most by any industry according to CRP. Additionally the second and third highest spenders on lobbying were the insurance world, which spent $38.1 million, and electronics manufacturing, which clocked in at $35.5 million.
CRP reported that “the communications and electronics sector increased its spending more than $6 million over last year’s third quarter, while the financial, insurance and real estate sector cut spending by more than $10 million.”
Nevertheless Trump supporters like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said just two weeks ago that the establishment in Washington was upset with President Trump because he was actually executing on his campaign promise to “drain the swamp.”
“Donald Trump really is draining the swamp, and the alligators are really unhappy, this guy is actually doing what he said he would do: We’re getting conservative judges nominated. We are getting regulations rolled back,” Gingrich told John Catsimatidis on AM970’s “The Answer.”
The average American voter will be the real judge of how much the ‘Swamp’ has really been drained during the 2018-midterm elections next year, with Democrats hoping to cut into the current Republican majority in the House and Senate.