Where K Street won and lost in the omnibus
With Daniel Lippman
PROGRAMMING NOTE: We’ll be off next week for the holidays but back to our normal schedule on Tuesday, Jan. 3.
RUNNIN’ FOR THE LAST TRAIN HOME: Congressional appropriators finally unveiled their mammoth government funding package in the wee hours of the morning following a last-minute spat over the location of the FBI’s next headquarters, as our intrepid budget and Congress team reported last night. The 4,000-plus-page omnibus includes a number of items sought by K Street, but what’s perhaps more notable is what got left out of the spending deal.
— Among the most high-profile pieces of legislation omitted from the package are the bipartisan antitrust bills aimed at barring tech companies from favoring their own products over rivals’ on their platforms and forcing companies like Apple and Google to loosen their grip on their app stores — an exclusion that all but certainly spells the end of the road for some of the furthest-advancing major antitrust reforms in decades.
— Financially out-matched antitrust advocates scored some wins in the legislation, however, including measures that would boost funding for federal antitrust enforcers and give state attorneys general more discretion over the court in which they choose to bring a federal antitrust case.
— The omnibus leaves in place several tax provisions the business community wanted scrapped amid demands by Democrats that tax breaks for industry be paired with the inclusion of an expanded child tax credit. For now, companies must still write off research and development expenses over five years instead of immediately deducting them, a top priority of major defense firms, manufacturers and business groups like the Business Roundtable and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
— The push by a coalition of online marketplaces, tech and gig companies and payment platforms to scale back a new threshold triggering tax reporting requirements for sellers on their platforms also fell short with weeks to go until tax forms go out.
— The retail industry scored one big win with the inclusion of language that would require online marketplaces to take steps to verify the identity of high-volume sellers, and then provide some of that information to customers. Retailers have pushed for such a measure for years and at multiple times this year it appeared on the verge of heading to President Joe Biden’s desk as part of China competitiveness legislation and the NDAA before ultimately getting dropped.
— Boeing came out of the spending talks as a big winner as well, successfully lobbying to waive a fast-approaching deadline for making upgrades to cockpit safety alerts.
Good afternoon and welcome to PI, where we hope you’ve had time to catch up on lost sleep from last night. Which omnibus wins (or losses) are flying under the radar? Reach out: [email protected]. And be sure to follow me on Twitter: @caitlinoprysko.
HOW THE TECH GIANTS BEAT BACK A POTENT ANTITRUST THREAT: “A passionate and bipartisan legislative effort to rein in the country’s largest technology companies collapsed this week, the victim of an epic lobbying campaign by Amazon, Apple, Google and Meta,” Bloomberg’s Emily Birnbaum reports.
— “The internet titans spent hundreds of millions of dollars, sent their chief executives to Washington and deployed trade groups and sympathetic scholars to quash two antitrust bills co-sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, and Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican. The companies treated the bills like an existential threat.”
— “The opposition campaign exploited contrasting concerns of the two parties. To Democrats, tech lobbyists argued that the bills would harm minority groups and reduce online privacy. To Republicans, they focused on free speech and free markets.” Other dynamics in Washington complicated the bills’ passage, including ”partisan gridlock, personal animosity among lawmakers, bigger legislative priorities, a lack of action by [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer and perceived inflexibility by Klobuchar. But the lobbying was titanic in scope.”
— “The bills had well-organized support. A coalition of smaller tech companies, civil society groups, and companies owned by Rupert Murdoch lobbied hard for them. Murdoch’s companies Fox and News Corp., which have long battled Google over its dominance in search and news distribution, worked to get Republicans on board. The small technology companies and consumer groups spent $2 million on ads, blanketed Capitol Hill and organized protest after protest. It was no match for what they were up against.”
— “The big tech companies put aside rivalries and joined forces. They and their trade groups spent more than $100 million on lobbying in two years, outpacing high-spending industries such as pharmaceuticals and defense” in Washington while funneling more than $130 million into ad blitzes targeting key swing states.
— “They donated more than $5 million to politicians, and tech lobbyists bundled more than $1 million to the PAC in charge of defending the Democrats’ majority. And they put millions more into dark-money groups, nonprofits and trade associations that aren’t required to disclose the source of their funding. Several congressional aides said they received more outreach on the bills than any other they’d worked on in years.”
ANOTHER IRA ARCHITECT HEADS TO K STREET: House Democrats’ lead lawyer on energy issues in the Inflation Reduction Act is taking his talent back to K Street. Tyler O’Connor, who most recently served as energy counsel for House Energy & Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), is rejoining Crowell & Moring as a partner in its energy and government affairs practices.
— O’Connor worked extensively on energy provisions in Democrats’ climate and social spending bill as well as the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which together include hundreds of billions of dollars in grants, tax credits and loans for advancing clean energy initiatives, and according to the firm was Energy & Commerce’s lead staffer responsible for a host of energy and environment issues during his roughly 18 months with the panel.
— At Crowell & Moring, O’Connor will channel that experience into helping clients in energy, manufacturing and the auto industry capitalize on the bills’ gusher of new spending, including helping them navigate federal and state agencies doling out the money. He isn’t expected to register to lobby at the moment, the firm told PI, though he may eventually.
— “His direct involvement in the creation and passage of the IRA and IIJA – combined with his relationships with House leaders, federal agency officials, and industry stakeholders – adds great value to our team and demonstrates that he not only knows the law and the key decisionmakers but can also identify the significant opportunities and pathways available to our clients,” said Jim Flood, the head of the firm’s lobbying operation, in a statement.
— O’Connor is the latest staffer who worked intimately on the reconciliation bill to return to K Street in recent months. Earlier this year, K&L Gates also lured one of its alumni on the Hill back to its lobbying shop, and Holland & Knight added an Energy Department official who worked on the bill from the administration side.
— And the top aide to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) — a key player in negotiations on earlier iterations of the IRA and an architect of the infrastructure bill — departed the Hill for a lobbying gig with the health care-focused firm Tarplin Downs & Young.
NEW QUESTIONS SURROUND SALE OF CONWAY’S POLLING COMPANY:POLITICO’s Heidi Przybyla reports that “longtime judicial activist Leonard Leo appears to have helped facilitate the sale of former White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway’s polling company in 2017 — as she was playing a key role in advocating for Leo’s handpicked list of Supreme Court candidates, according to previously unreported financial documents reviewed by government ethics and finance experts.”
— “The transaction came at a critical moment for Conway — shortly after her ownership of The Polling Companyhad come under scrutiny from a congressional oversight committee for potential ‘conflicts of interest,’ likely creating pressure to unload it even though its value was unclear because she was its biggest asset and committed to her White House job.”
— “It appears Leo, via one of his dark money groups, helped finance the transaction between the firm, Creative Response Concepts Inc., and Conway — worth between $1 million and $5 million. … At the time, CRC was also bringing in millions of dollars from dark money groups to promote Leo’s picks.”
— Per Heidi, “On the same day of the sale, on Sept. 21, 2017, a lawyer filed liens with Virginia regulators listing collateral for two loans: one for the buyer and the other for a dark money group controlled by Leo, BH Fund. The liens were filed within five minutes of each other. Government ethics and finance experts say the timing and the similarity of the two transactions suggest that BH Fund, too, may have been involved in the purchase of Conway’s firm.”
DEM SUPER PACS WILL RETURN FTX CASH: “The pro-Democratic Senate Majority PACplans to return $3 million in donations from former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried and the crypto exchange’s ex-head of engineering, Nishad Singh,” CNBC’s Brian Schwartz reports.
— “The super PAC, which spent more than $160 million supporting Democratic bids for Senate seats, received $2 million from Singh and $1 million from Bankman-Fried during the 2022 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records.”
— “The Democratic National Committee and the party’s Senate and House campaign arms — the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — have made similar commitments to return donations from former FTX executives,” which were joined today by House Majority PAC, the super PAC backing House Democrats that received $6 million from Bankman-Fried earlier this year.
— “The PAC ‘will send funds in question wherever authorities instruct us,’” spokesperson CJ Warnke told CNBC.
— Pernell Brice III is joining Children’s Health Fund as vice president of policy and advocacy. He was most recently interim executive director of the Food Education Fund.
— The Office of the U.S. Trade…
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