Mapping the Lobbying Footprint of Harmful Industries: 23 Years of Data From OpenSecrets

Tags:
Early View Original Scholarship
Topics:
Commercial Determinants of Health

Policy Points:

  • Our research reveals the similarities and differences among the lobbying activities of tobacco, alcohol, gambling, and ultraprocessed food industries, which are often a barrier to the implementation of public health policies.
  • Over 23 years, we found that just six organizations dominated lobbying expenses in the tobacco and alcohol sectors, whereas the gambling sector outsourced most of their lobbying to professional firms.
  • Databases like OpenSecrets are a useful resource to monitor the commercial determinants of health.

Context: Commercial lobbying is often a barrier to the development and implementation of public health policies. Yet, little is known about the similarities and differences in the lobbying practices of different industry sectors or types of commercial actors. This study compares the lobbying practices of four industry sectors that have been the focus of much public health research and advocacy: tobacco, alcohol, gambling, and ultraprocessed foods.

Methods: Data on lobbying expenditures and lobbyist backgrounds were sourced from the OpenSecrets database, which monitors lobbying in the United States. Lobbying expenditure data were analyzed for the 1998–2020 period. We classified commercial actors as companies or trade associations. We used Power BI software to link, analyze, and visualize data sets.

Findings: We found that the ultraprocessed food industry spent the most on lobbying ($1.15 billion), followed by gambling ($817 million), tobacco ($755 million), and alcohol ($541 million). Overall, companies were more active than trade associations, with associations being least active in the tobacco industry. Spending was often highly concentrated, with two organizations accounting for almost 60% of tobacco spending and four organizations accounting for more than half of alcohol spending. Lobbyists that had formerly worked in government were mainly employed by third-party lobby firms.

Conclusions: Our study shows how comparing the lobbying practices of different industry sectors offers a deeper appreciation of the diversity and similarities of commercial actors. Understanding these patterns can help public health actors to develop effective counterstrategies.


Citation:
Chung H, Cullerton K, Lacy-Nichols, J. Mapping the Lobbying Footprint of Harmful Industries: 23 Years of Data From OpenSecrets. Milbank Q. 2024;102(2):0114.