Diverse Lobbying Interests Come to Light In Stalled Debate Over Minimum Wage Bill

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By Chris Opfer

May 13 --The recent debate over legislation to increase the federal minimum wage didn't result in a mandatory pay hike for the country's lowest-earning workers, but it did generate spending on lobbying activities by a wide range of employers and organizations, including some whose interests in the bill may not be immediately apparent, according to an analysis of quarterly disclosure filings by Bloomberg BNA.

Approximately 40 different advocacy groups, industry organizations, companies and other entities spent money during the first three months of the year lobbying Congress on the minimum wage bill (S. 2223, H.R. 1010), which stalled in the Senate on a largely party line vote in April Although it's unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will bring up the legislation for another vote in the coming months, it's likely that lawmakers on both sides will hold their positions on the bill as mid-term elections approach.

Along with traditional players such as business groups on the one hand and labor unions on the other, the field also included the American Psychological Association, the United Spinal Association, an organization representing the Religious Society of Friends, and the government for one major metropolis that already has a minimum wage that's higher than the proposed federal level.

It's difficult to quantify just how much of the money spent by these groups on lobbying actually went to minimum-wage-related efforts because disclosure rules require them to reveal only the total amount spent on lobbying overall each quarter. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent nearly $19 million on lobbying efforts in the first quarter of 2014, for example, covering activities as varied as opposing the minimum wage bill and seeking to inform and influence lawmakers on environmental regulations, online gambling restrictions, natural gas permitting, and a slew of Affordable Care Act provisions.

But the breadth of players involved in lobbying on the bill, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 from $7.25 and peg future increases to inflation, shows the significant and wide range of potential effects the legislation could have had on employers and workers.

Access, 'Education.'

The money spent on lobbying likely included efforts to gain access to and sway lawmakers who may have been on the fence about the wage raise, University of Michigan public policy professor Richard Hall told Bloomberg BNA May 12. Most of it, however, likely went toward shoring up relationships with those already on a particular group's side and gathering political research to support their positions.

"What you see is most of the money goes to legislators that would already support the group anyway," Hall said. "What they are trying to do is get access to those members and remind them how big the issue is in their districts."

Two of the staunchest opponents of the measure--the National Restaurant Association and the National Retail Federation--told Bloomberg BNA that the majority of their activities were related to "educating" lawmakers about their position on the matter, rather than actually trying to convince legislators to vote down the bill.

Besides traditional players such as business and labor groups, lobbyists included the American Psychological Association, an organization representing the Religious Society of Friends, and the government of a major metropolis that already has a minimum wage higher than the proposed federal level.

"This was one of those issues that we needed more to respond to questions than it was a proactive lobbying effort," Scott DeFife, the executive vice president of policy and government affairs for the National Restaurant Association, told Bloomberg BNA May 12. "Virtually everyone in town has known for a year that Reid and Harkin didn't have the votes to pass minimum wage," he added, referring to Majority Leader Reid and bill sponsor Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

Interested parties may have sought access through direct lobbying efforts, but Hall said another important piece of the puzzle comes via separate campaign donations to party leadership and members of congressional committees who are seen as gatekeepers to getting a particular bill moving forward.

Unions, Chamber, Employer Groups Lead Way.

The minimum wage measure was billed as a key piece of Senate Democrats' "fair shot" agenda and one of a handful of issues that party leadership said they would focus on in order to create a stark contrast with Republicans heading into the November elections .

The lines also appear to have been clearly drawn on the lobbying front, with labor unions and employee rights groups supporting the legislation and individual businesses and organizations representing them mostly opposing. The AFL-CIO ($900,000), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council ($680,000), International Brotherhood of Teamsters ($323,000) and Service Employees International Union ($206,850) spent approximately $2.2 million combined on lobbying in the first three months of 2014, including on efforts urging lawmakers to vote in favor of the wage hike bill.

The breadth of lobbyists involved shows the significant and wide range of potential effects the minimum wage legislation could have had on employers and workers.

The figures don't include lobbying activity in April, during which both sides were likely to ramp up their efforts as the vote drew near. Lobbyists for labor groups and the NRF told Bloomberg News in March that they wouldn't gear up for a push on the issue until the vote was actually scheduled .

Nevertheless, AFL-CIO Director of Government Relations Bill Samuel told Bloomberg BNA May 9 that the minimum wage bill is one of the federation's "top four" legislative priorities, along with extending long-term unemployment benefits, overhauling the immigration system and fighting certain international trade legislation. While AFSCME, SEIU and the Teamsters declined to describe their lobbying activities, each of the unions was vocal in support of the wage hike legislation in the months leading up to the vote.

Joining the Chamber of Commerce in opposing the measure were employer organizations such as the NRF, which spent $1 million in total on lobbying in the first quarter of 2014, the National Restaurant Association ($607,000), the American Hotel and Lodging Association ($244,376) and the National Grocers Association ($60,000). The AHLA, whose board members include representatives of Marriott, Intercontinental, Hilton and Hyatt, declined to comment on its specific lobbying work, but has opposed minimum wage increases generally.

A number of companies in industries represented by the trade groups, including McDonald's, Yum! Brands, Home Depot and Marriott, also spent money lobbying on the minimum wage bill, but each declined to explain their individual position on the measure.

Opponents of the wage hike argue that raising the mandatory wage floor would force employers to shed jobs. "This was never a great idea," NRF Senior Vice President David French told Bloomberg BNA May 9, saying that the minimum wage bill was just one of a number of issues that the group lobbied Congress on in the first quarter. "Labor costs don't grow on trees."

Assorted Group of Supporters.

Besides worker groups, proponents of the minimum wage bill included an assortment of organizations and other entities. Their reasons for lobbying in favor of the legislation are far less readily apparent.

Although the City and County of San Francisco already has a $10.73 an hour minimum wage in effect, a rate that increases annually based on inflation, disclosure reports show that a portion of the $70,000 the government spent on federal lobbying in the first quarter was related to the minimum wage bill. Christine Falvey, communications director for San Francisco mayor Ed Lee, told Bloomberg BNA in a May 9 e-mail that the mayor simply thinks the wage raise is a good idea.

"Mayor Lee supports President Obama's call to increase the federal minimum wage and has heeded the president's call to work at this issue on the local level as well to address wage disparity," Falvey said. She added that Lee is working on a ballot measure to "significant[ly] increase" the city and county's current minimum wage.

The impact of any additional increases on the city and county's ability to attract lower-wage employers to the area would likely be lessened if Congress were to also raise the federal minimum wage, closing the gap between what these businesses can pay workers in San Francisco and what they can pay workers nationwide.

Similarly, religious affiliated lobbying groups such as Network, a Catholic social justice group, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation, appear to have steered some of their lobbying efforts toward the minimum wage legislation because they feel that passing the measure is simply the right thing to do. FCNL legislative associate Tila Neguse told Bloomberg BNA May 7 that the group's lobbying efforts on the minimum wage bill are in line with the Quaker Faith's commitment to ensuring equality and fighting poverty.

The United Spinal Association, on the other hand, lobbied on the bill in an attempt to add a provision requiring employers to pay disabled workers at least the federal minimum wage. The Fair Labor Standards Act currently permits employers to pay certain disabled workers at a rate lower than the minimum wage.

The American Psychological Association also spent at least some money lobbying on the legislation. In an April 2, 2014, letter to the entire Senate, APA chief executive officer Norman B. Anderson argued that financial insecurity is a significant source of stress for workers and their families. "We urge you to support the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 to increase economic opportunity and upward mobility, while reducing the adverse effects of financial stress and poverty on our nation's families," Anderson wrote.

The APA's members include professors, researchers, clinicians, program directors and graduate students. Deputy Executive Director Kim Mills told Bloomberg BNA May 7 that the psychology profession "is relevant to virtually every key issue in society today."

"Our advocacy on behalf of issues that have a direct effect on psychologists is significant, and includes working toward more funding for psychological research and education," Mills said. "But we also see our mandate as requiring us to communicate to policy-makers the best psychological research as they formulate legislation affecting such populations as children and families, people with disabilities, women, members of the military and veterans and the mentally ill, as well as issues such as climate change, health care reform, gun control and minimum wage."

Coalitions Not 'Spontaneous.'

While the interests at stake in lobbying in favor of the bill appear to vary widely, Michigan professor Hall said the individual groups were likely part of a larger concerted effort to get the legislation passed. "Coalitions don't develop spontaneously," Hall said. Rather, he said, some of the strongest supporters or opponents of any legislation often go out looking for a broad range of partners, whether industry or nonprofit groups, professional associations or local municipalities.

"If I'm one of the leaders on this, I'm trying to get as many and as different kinds of groups to back this as I can," Hall said, adding that lobbying efforts by various interested parties may open up access to different lawmakers.

By Chris Opfer

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in Washington at copfer@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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