Congress is at odds over rebuilding infrastructure and investing in family care, but a big spending bill recently sailed through the Senate by a vote of 68-32. The bill pushes $250 billion into technology research and subsidies for industries like semiconductors to compete with China—proving once again there can still be bipartisan consensus on national priorities, as long as armies of corporate lobbyists are behind it.
Despite the new White House and Congress this year, much remains the same in the influence industry on Capitol Hill. The pharmaceutical industry, by far the top spender on lobbying, set new records last year and then smashed those in the first quarter of this year. President Biden’s proposal for military spending was a $12 billion increase over the final year of the Trump administration. The innovation bill meant to match China doubles funding for the Pentagon’s R&D arm, which is likely to lead to even more bloated budgets for weapons programs.
With so much public money at stake, now is an important window of time to track who is influencing the people who make government decisions. Committee chairs and caucus leaders in Congress can block legislation—for example, on climate policy—or roll bills they’ve sponsored with lobbyist-favored provisions into must-pass omnibus bills. Lobbyists are having their way in the Democratic Congress, and government contractors have business ties to administration officials.
Sludge has built a track record of independence in uncovering hidden influence over Congress and top political players. We’re in position to name the big donors to congressional leaders when their industry lobbyists come calling. Conservative Democrats like those in the Problem Solvers Caucus portray their efforts as staunchly middle-class, when in fact they seek to tilt tax policy in favor of wealthy finance executive donors who make their campaigns easier.
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This week, Sludge celebrates our three-year anniversary. Our launch day stories gave a sense of where we were headed: exposing a defense think tank funded by Pentagon contractors, telcos spending $190 million on lobbying to kill net neutrality, and a last-minute ad blitz for a Trump-backed House candidate in Virginia.
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