Airlines, Amazon Upped Lobbying as Virus Hit Economy

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. industries including airlines, pharmaceutical firms and Big Tech boosted their lobbying in the first three months of 2020 as the coronavirus went from a regional concern to a worldwide pandemic that prompted governments to spend trillions of dollars in aid.

The airline trade association Airlines for America spent nearly $2 million in the first quarter, up more than 50% from almost $1.3 million in the same period a year earlier, and secured financial assistance as demand for air travel plunged, according to lobbying disclosures filed with Congress Monday.

The U.S. Treasury Department disbursed $2.9 billion to passenger airlines Monday in the first round of payroll assistance to industries.

The airlines had sought $58 billion in aid for passenger and cargo carriers from Congress, and with supportive messages from President Donald Trump, the industry eventually secured $50 billion in loans and payroll assistance for passenger carriers and $8 billion for cargo carriers as part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus that Congress assembled at the end of March. The forms represent lobbying from the start of the year to March 31.

The government is also requiring large carriers to repay some of the assistance at low interest rates, and the Treasury has the ability to take stock warrants. On both provisions, there was pushback from the industry, as carriers have cut capacity as much as 80% while parking thousands of planes and flying many routes nearly empty.

Several lobbying groups including the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Association of Realtors, as well as companies including Gilead Sciences Inc. and Inc., increased their spending on government influence in the first quarter, according to disclosures filed with Congress.

Records Set

California-based Gilead, a major producer of HIV and hepatitis C drugs, spent almost $2.5 million on lobbying in the second quarter, a record for the company and up more than 30% from a year earlier, when it set its prior record. Earlier in April, the company’s shares jumped after a report that a group of patients being treated in Chicago with one of its drugs as part of an experimental trial were “seeing rapid recoveries in fever and respiratory symptoms.”

Amazon and Facebook Inc. also set records in the quarter. Amazon spent more than $4.3 million, up more than 11% from the first quarter of 2019 and beating its previous quarterly record of $4.2 million, which it set in the last three months of 2019. The e-commerce giant, which has become a lifeline for Americans in lockdown seeking to obtain supplies without venturing outside, reported lobbying on combating price gouging in response to the pandemic, among other issues. Some sellers on Amazon had raised prices of goods on the platform dramatically as the virus outbreak took hold in the U.S.

Facebook spent nearly $5.3 million, up more than 50% from the same period a year earlier, on “Coronavirus response” alongside its more typical issues such as privacy, competition and cryptocurrency.

Manufacturers’ Issues

The National Association of Manufacturers, meanwhile, spent nearly $3.4 million, up almost 50% from a year earlier. The group called for the federal government to create a $1.4 trillion fund with interest-free loans to manufacturers affected by the outbreak. It praised the $850 billion in financing and guarantees for large and small businesses ultimately included in the stimulus legislation that its members could tap.

Manufacturers also pushed the administration to designate the supply chain as “essential” to avoid business disruptions and keep workers on the job.

Realtors, meanwhile, spent almost $14 million, an increase of nearly 20% from the first quarter of 2019. The National Association of Realtors worked on a number of issues related to the coronavirus response, including relief for independent contractors and the self-employed, according to its filings. It reached out to Congress, the White House, the Treasury Department, the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Labor Department.

The Business Roundtable spent nearly $5 million, up more than a third from the same period in 2019. The group, which counts chief executives of major companies as its membership, said in its filing that it lobbied on the financial stimulus, as well as labor and supply chain issues related to the virus and federal recommendations on workers who should be labeled “essential” amid lockdowns.

BRT, some of whose members are advising the White House on reopening the economy, recently urged the administration to follow a strategy that is “guided by public health officials.”

Spending by groups including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation was flat to lower despite lobbying in response to the outbreak, which intensified in the final weeks of the reporting period.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association, the Cruise Lines International Association and the International Franchise Association spent less than the year before.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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