CEO Lobby Group Quadrupled Year-End Spending on Tax PushBy
Business Roundtable, under Dimon, seeks to bolster its role
Group spent more than $17 million in the fourth quarter
The Business Roundtable, a lobbying group for American chief executives that’s seeking to bolster its clout in Washington, quadrupled spending in the last three months of the year compared to the same period a year earlier as it threw its support behind President Donald Trump’s tax bill.
Under the leadership of JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon, who became the roundtable’s chairman a year ago, the group sought to heighten its influence in key policy areas, pushing for tax reform, regulatory rollback and infrastructure development.
The roundtable raised spending by more than $13 million in the fourth quarter, to $17.35 million, according to a copy of federal disclosures provided to Bloomberg. It spent $4.17 million in the last quarter of 2016.
The group, whose members are chief executive officers from some of the country’s largest companies, including General Motors Co.’s Mary Barra and Coca-Cola Co.’s James Quincey, slightly outspent the powerful Chamber of Commerce business lobby in the final three months of the year as its 200-plus members pushed for the tax bill. The chamber spent $16.83 million in the last quarter, according to its disclosure.
"BRT made significant investments in 2017 to support passage of tax-reform legislation that makes our workers and businesses more competitive," Jessica Boulanger, the roundtable’s senior vice president for public affairs, said in a statement.
Traditionally considered the powerhouse of business lobbying in Washington, the Chamber of Commerce was the No. 1 spender in each of the first three quarters of 2017 and spent nearly $59 million on lobbying during the full year, according to disclosures. That compares with the $27 million the roundtable spent on lobbying last year. The roundtable spent approximately $2.3 million, $3.2 million and $4.5 million in the first three quarters respectively, according to federal disclosures.
Unlike the chamber, however, the roundtable doesn’t have a political action committee that directs donations to candidates and doesn’t endorse office-seekers, both long-practiced methods for influencing policy. It long had a reputation as little more than a convening forum.
When Dimon took over the leadership of the group, some of his members were battling each other over a doomed proposal by House Speaker Paul Ryan to pay for tax reform through a levy on imports -- another conflict in a series of splits that had previously hamstrung the organization.
Once that proposal was withdrawn, however, roundtable members including AT&T Inc.’s Randall Stephenson and Boeing Co.’s Dennis Muilenburg publicly urged passage of the most complex overhaul of the U.S. tax code in more than 30 years, which they portrayed as a badly needed boost to the economy. Roundtable executives pushed the tax overhaul with employees, customers, lawmakers and the media, the group said.
The $17 million investment primarily went for hiring staff, traditional government affairs and advertising campaigns, according to a person familiar with the efforts.
The roundtable said it’s hiring five new staffers and promoting two to a team under Boulanger and Bill Miller, senior vice president of government relations. The hires include Matt Moon, a former senior adviser to Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin who will work on advertising and digital strategy among other duties, and Corey Astill, a former staff director to Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, who will oversee outreach to the Capitol and White House.
Agenda for 2018
The new hires follow Dimon’s decision to bring in Joshua Bolten, a former White House chief of staff to President George W. Bush, as the roundtable’s president. In April, the roundtable also brought on Marcus Peacock, a top White House budget adviser as Bolten’s second-in-command -- and one of the first administration officials to leave for a lobbying group.
In addition to extensive lobbying on taxes, the roundtable said in the disclosure obtained by Bloomberg that it was working on high-skilled immigration, infrastructure, trade and financial regulation, among other topics.
Several of the issues brought lobbyists for the group to the Executive Office of the President, which includes the president’s inner circle, as well as advisers at entities including the Office of Management and Budget and the Council of Economic Advisers.