Corporate Lobbying Boosts Correspond With Export-Import Bank Scuffle

As conservatives in Congress successfully blocked the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank last summer, three corporate juggernauts ramped up their spending on lobbying, new data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows. Reopening the bank was their top legislative priority, according to their public statements.

The three entities — two major multinational corporations and a top industry group — each significantly raised their spending on federal lobbying from 2014 to 2015, with much of the spending coming during the period from July to December, when the Ex-Im Bank’s charter had lapsed.

The bank, which provides financing for U.S. exporters, was ultimately renewed until 2019 as part of last year’s highway legislation. The highway measure passed with overwhelming support in both chambers of Congress.

The report shows that the National Association of Manufacturers boosted lobbying spending from $12.4 million to nearly $17 million from 2014 to 2015, while General Electric Co. went from $15.17 million to nearly $21 million, and Boeing Co. went from $16.8 million to $21.7 million. Representatives from Boeing and NAM declined to comment, and requests for comment to GE were not answered.

While it is impossible to know exactly how much money each entity spent on lobbying specifically for Ex-Im’s revival, it was the top concern mentioned in those entities’ lobbying reports.

The extraordinary effort required to reauthorize the bank reflects a shifting political playing field. While Ex-Im used to enjoy broad bipartisan support, a vocal and increasingly large contingent of Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), spoke forcefully against reauthorizing it. Opponents allege that it is a vehicle for “crony capitalism,” providing “corporate welfare” to multinational corporations. They specifically mention Boeing and GE in their critiques.

Supporters, however, consider opponents’ label of Ex-Im as “bank of Boeing” to be misleading at best. Most of the financing, they say, ultimately benefits the myriad smaller companies that make up the supply chains for larger corporations, thus supporting thousands of jobs throughout the country. The bank’s own data says that in 2015, 90 percent of its transactions “directly supported American small businesses.”

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the leader of the fight against Ex-Im in the House, recently signaled to reporters that the struggle over the bank’s existence isn’t over. “If I was a Fortune 50 CEO, I don’t think I’d write a long-term strategic plan based on financing from Ex-Im,” he said at a roundtable. “I think serious questions continue to be asked. But there was a fair fight. They won that round, but I’m not sure that the battle is over.”

Indeed, the next round has probably already started. With Ex-Im’s board of directors lacking a quorum, it cannot authorize loans over $10 million, a matter of utmost concern to large manufacturers. And, with Ex-Im opponent Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), in no rush to move on the Obama administration’s nominees, the fight promises to be a long slog.

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