Retailers are getting more political — at least if their spending on lobbyists is anything to go by.
Some of the biggest merchants in the U.S., including Amazon, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp. and Nike Inc., spent significantly more on lobbying in the first six months of 2017 than a year earlier. The same goes for retail associations such as the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association, according to new financial disclosures.
The NRF spent $7.3 million on lobbying for taxes, trade and swipe fee reform, a 49 percent increase over the $3.7 million the group had spent in the first half of last year.
“We’d all be up a little with a new administration — a kind of legislative happy time is almost always the first six to eight months — however, this time you’ve got a bunch of big issues on the table,” said David French, the NRF’s senior vice president for government relations.
The industry has almost uniformly lined up against the Border Adjustment Tax, which was first floated last year by the House of Representatives and would see additional tariffs imposed on imported goods.
French admitted that this effort to combat BAT “probably drove most of [the spending]” but has “been very effective.”
The BAT proposal has lost significant momentum in recent months, having been branded a “$5.6 billion tax on consumers” by the NRF and raising strong opposition from other lobbyists and top fashion executives, such as Emanuel Chirico, chief executive officer of PVH Corp.
“It’s not totally off the table, but it’s widely viewed as dead in the administration and only on life support in the house,” French said. “It will not be truly dead until we see a tax bill in the House that does not include it.”
Julie Hughes, president of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, agreed that the proposal isn’t faring well right now and added “the Senate has no appetite to consider it” even though the House isn’t ready to let it go.
“In their minds, it’s the only funding mechanism to do some of the cuts they want and they’re not letting go because they haven’t yet landed on a replacement,” Hughes said.
Other retailers that appeared to have spent big on pushing back against BAT are Target, which increased spending by 48.6 percent for the first half of the year to $1.48 million, as well as Gap, which increased spending by 83.9 percent to $810,000.
The BAT is just the highest-profile issue industry players were paying to make themselves heard on.
Amazon spent $6.1 million on lobbying during the first half, a 7.5 percent increase that covered a range of issues, from tax reform to net neutrality, which it has been openly in support of, as well as privacy, cybersecurity and immigration.
Efforts by the Trump administration to curb immigration based on nationality and religion have rankled many of the biggest tech-driven companies, including Amazon and Apple Inc., both of which told employees this year that the effort went against the values of their respective companies.
The North American Free Trade Agreement has also been getting some attention from retail over recent months, given the Trump administration’s plans to renegotiate the trilateral agreement.
Gap cited NAFTA as a lobbying expense in its disclosure forms, and Nike cited trade issues generally as a focus of its $710,000 in lobbying spending, a 29.5 percent increase.
Hughes of the USFIA said the association’s recent benchmark survey found executives in the retail and fashion industry were most concerned about “protectionist actions” being taken by the U.S.
“The fact that the top concern wasn’t sourcing related is interesting and surprising,” she said.
And the industry isn’t expected to back off of its lobbying efforts in the months to come as issues such as tax reform, which Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin has said the Trump administration wants done by the end of the year, seem more imminent.
“[Lobbying] is still the best way to get heard,” said Melanie Sloan, a senior adviser with American Oversight, a new nonprofit ethics watchdog. “You can’t afford to not be in the room and you’d be foolish to not spend with something like tax reform on the table.”
While Washington, D.C., is largely business as usual in this way, despite President Trump’s many assurances on the presidential campaign trail that he’d be the one to “drain the swamp,” Sloan did note one difference with this administration that’s agitating traditional lobbyists.
“There’s some money being spent, rather than on well-connected lobbyists, on those who are more connected to the Trump family in some way,” Slone said. “If you have an in with a family member, it’s paying off, even if you don’t have a lot of experience as a lobbyist.”
She pointed to Corey Lewandowski who late last year launched his own political consulting firm after a stint as Trump’s campaign manager, but resigned in May amid increasing scrutiny about claims that he’d pitched clients with his ties to the administration, despite never registering as a lobbyist.
While Sloan admitted that all new politicians claim they’ll be the ones to come to Washington and change it, she said the number of lobbyists that have joined the administration is “very high.”
The Trump administration has tapped more than 100 career lobbyists for top spots in the administration, according to research from American Bridge, a left-leaning research and communications firm.
“Their ties to industry is going to be very positive for those industries — when you are a former lobbyist you don’t dislike lobbyists,” Sloan said. “It’ll be easier in some ways for those who are lobbying. Lobbying will be very effective with this administration, probably more so than it has been with others.”
For More See: