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Need proof that lobbying is big business? The country’s 20 largest companies spent just over $100 million to woo federal officials last year, and hired 152 firms to get the job done. Those stats are among the notable results of a recent survey conducted by Influence, a sibling publication of Corporate Counsel. The Influence analysis also shows that the score of corporations at the top of the Fortune 500 roster had a variety of lobbying strategies. Some spent a lot, especially those subject to heavy ongoing regulation or those worried about pending legislation. Others-including Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the country’s biggest company-spent comparatively little. Businesses also took different tacks when it came to hiring lobbyists: Some retained a raft of firms, while others concentrated their accounts with a few. The Influence survey is based on semiannual reports required by the Lobbying Disclosure Act and filed with the House and Senate. Organizations that lobby the federal government must disclose all related expenses-including salaries of in-house lobbying staff, payments to contract lobbyists and vendors, and overhead costs. The discrepancy in spending among the 20 largest companies was significant. Nine spent more than $5 million on lobbying, but six spent $2 million or less. General Electric Corpora-tion shelled out the most, spending $15.4 million in 2001. The wide-ranging conglomerate lobbied on a host of federal issues, including aviation security legislation, U.S. Defense Department appropriations, and media ownership restrictions. The Philip Morris Companies Inc., the second-biggest spender in the Influence survey, has long been accustomed to blanketing lawmakers and regulators on tobacco issues. The cigarette-driven conglomerate reported $12.5 million in lobbying expenditures last year. In sharp contrast, Wal-Mart spent just $1 million of its $220 billion in gross revenue on federal lobbying. “We’ve only had an office in Washington for about three years,” said spokesman Rob Phillips in an e-mail interview. “And it’s small, staffed by three people.” While D.C. lobbyists would struggle if they only had Wal-Mart for a client, they would go broke if they had to rely on The Home Depot, Inc. The Atlanta-based company spent less in the nation’s capital than any of the other 20 corporate leaders. Home Depot, which didn’t even open a Washington office until September of this year, reported 2001 lobbying expenditures of just $20,000. In addition to the disparity in lobbying expenditures, businesses also diverged in the number of outside firms that they hired last year. AT&T Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. spread their wealth more than any of the other top 20 companies. The two telecoms are locked in a battle over the Tauzin-Dingell bill, which would make it easier for the Baby Bells to enter the long-distance broadband market. AT&T retained 30 shops and spent $8.3 million; Verizon split $6.7 million among 28 firms. Other big spenders, such as Ford Motor Company ($5.5 million on lobbying) and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. ($6.3 million), hired five or fewer firms. By hiring more firms, “you get more perspective on the same issues,” says John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs from the country’s biggest corporations. “Other companies like to consolidate because it’s easier to manage.” The scope of a corporation’s internal operation, and its evolving needs in Washington, determine when it decides to seek outside help. One in-house lobbyist says that his top-20 company hires consultants who “fit into our philosophy, which is, we don’t make a lot of waves.”-Kate Ackley

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