July 16, 2020 – The $2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package is one of the most heavily lobbied bills of all time – and a ripe target for reporters exploring who got the money and why.
“As COVID tightened its grip on the U.S., Washington lobbying firms put teams of lobbyists on the clock to make sure they were at the table when the inevitable massive government spending decisions were made,” said Dan Auble, a senior researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics. He was joined by Sheila Krumholz, the center's executive director.
Nearly 1,600 entities reported lobbying Congress on the CARES Act in the first quarter of 2020. Only the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – the 2009 stimulus package designed to help pull the nation out of the Great Recession – had more.
Auble and James Grimaldi, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal reporter, briefed National Press Foundation fellows on how to follow the lobbyists’ money to lawmakers’ campaign war chests, their staffs, their businesses, their favorite charities, or their spouses’ employers.
The first coronavirus stimulus programs were passed by Congress in late March just as businesses, schools and most aspects of public life were shutting down. The biggest legislative package – the CARES Act – included very visible programs such as the $1,200 checks most U.S. adults received and the Paycheck Protection Program intended to help small businesses. It had several other provisions, many targeted to specific industries.
Among the resources reporters can tap:
- Lobbying disclosure reports, collected by the Senate Office of Public Records and regularly compiled and analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics. They showed that hundreds of firms filed registrations for lobbying activity surrounding the COVID relief bill. Second-quarter lobbying reports are due July 20, and the center will have its analysis of them on July 24.
- OpenSecrets.org, the website of the Center for Responsive Politics, has lobbying profiles of industries, companies and trade groups. It tracks their spending over the past two decades and shows what bills they were interested in, which firms they hired and images of the actual reports. Sample profile: U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
- The Federal Election Commission and FollowTheMoney.org, which collects state-level information, as well as OpenSecrets.org, can be used to track campaign contributions, Grimaldi said.
- OpenCorporates.com, which shows which companies people are involved with, is useful for tracking the personal holdings of members of Congress.
- Disclosure forms filed with the House and Senate can also shed light on lawmakers’ financial transactions.
- LegiStorm.com can shed light on the financial dealings of congressional staff.