These Five Retirement Issues Brought Out the Lobbyists

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By Madison Alder and Jasmine Ye Han

Five hot-button issues in retirement policy were at the forefront of lobbying efforts in the second quarter of 2017, Bloomberg Government data show.

But despite the intense U.S. political debates occurring around retirement, lobbyists overall spent 15 percent less this quarter than last, the lobbying data indicate.

The fiduciary rule, multiemployer reform, retirement issues relevant to tax reform, repeal of state retirement plans, and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation premiums were the top topics, in terms of number of lobbyists weighing in on them in the second quarter.

Overwhelmingly, the groups and organizations that lobbied on retirement issues represented employers and the financial industry. The American Benefits Council, for example, focused on tax incentives for retirement plans and PBGC premiums as its primary concerns in the second quarter.

Spending Down From $9.5M to $7.7M

Meanwhile, spending on retirement lobbying is the lowest it’s been in over a year, dropping 15 percent from the previous quarter, and 19 percent from the same time last year. About $7.7 million was spent on lobbying for retirement issues in the second quarter, compared with about $9.5 million over the same period last year.

The drop is surprising given the political focus on retirement issues--but it doesn’t necessarily suggest a trend, an American Benefits Council official told Bloomberg BNA.

“It is a surprise, but I think it probably makes sense to not draw too many conclusions from a one-quarter distance,” Jason Hammersla, ABC senior director of communications, said. The ABC is an employee benefits public policy organization that advocates for employers. Hammersla said the drop was particularly surprising given increased conversations about tax reform.

Another employer group said it’s expecting lobbying spending to go up soon. “We expect our spending to increase as Congress turns its attention to, among other topics, tax reform and to infrastructure investment, which are two key priorities for the business community,” Blair Latoff Holmes, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman, told Bloomberg BNA.

Fiduciary Rule

The “fiduciary rule” was the most commonly mentioned topic in the second-quarter filings, and the majority of those lobbying on the issue were groups and businesses that oppose the rule. BlackRock, Vanguard, and Morgan Stanley were among the financial institutions lobbying on the subject.

The Trump administration opposes the Obama-era fiduciary rule, whose stated purpose was to reduce conflicts of interest for financial advisers for people saving for retirement. Critics of the rule say it will create unnecessary hurdles for the advisers, who would have to meet the requirements of a fiduciary in order to work with their retirement saver clients.

The Chamber of Commerce was among the many organizations that lobbied on the topic. “Our second quarter lobbying report is a reflection of our continuing efforts to defend free enterprise, foster job creation, and spark greater economic growth,” Holmes said.

Multiemployer Pension Overhaul

A mix of unions and employers lobbied to overhaul unionized workers’ pensions--again. The Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014, or Kline-Miller Act, has been disappointing for many overhaul-advocates who expected more from it. They’ve taken to lobbying again in hopes of finding a fix for the ailing multiemployer pension system.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), and the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) were among the unions lobbying on the issue. Dean Foods, ABF Freight, and Nestle were among the employers favoring some sort of multiemployer change, filings indicated.

United Parcel Service, which also lobbied for a change in the second quarter, has been a leader on the multiemployer overhaul front. The company laid out a proposal in June to fix multiemployer pensions by providing 5-year federal government loans with low interest to pension plans in need of assistance.

The multiemployer issue is a “high priority” for the Pension Rights Center, though most of its time isn’t spent lobbying, Executive Vice President Karen Friedman told Bloomberg BNA. She said the center’s goal is “ensuring that we can address these over-funded multiemployer plans and not on the back on retirees.”

Retirement Issues Relevant to Tax Overhaul

Protecting the tax breaks that employers and employees receive for sponsoring and participating in retirement plans is an emerging issue for retirement lobbyists as Congress is expected to soon focus on tax changes.

House Speaker Paul Ryan indicated that tax changes would steer clear of the tax breaks, but lobbyists are still working to ensure that the breaks remain.

“This is something we’re monitoring very closely,” Hammersla said. The growing interest is likely a result of employers’ concern on behalf of their employees “because not everyone has the same financial situation” and some savings options might be better than others for some employees, Hammersla said.

Holmes said the Chamber of Commerce is also focused on “laying the groundwork for a tax reform push” in the second quarter.

New York Life Insurance Co. and Principal Financial were among the companies lobbying on tax issues in the second quarter, according to the filings.

Repeal of State Retirement Plan Regs

Another issue that drew significant lobbying attention was state-run retirement plans for private sector workers.

Those lobbying against permitting such plans will likely count their second-quarter efforts as a victory. President Donald Trump signed a bill in May that repealed regulations enacted during the Obama administration that exempted state-run retirement savings programs for the private-sector from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. TIAA, Voya, and LPL Financial were among the financial groups lobbying on the issue.

The fight might not be over yet, however.

California is going forward with its own Secure Choice Retirement Saving Program despite the regulation’s repeal and will attempt to restructure the program so it isn’t defined as an employee benefit organization under ERISA.

PBGC Premiums

A focus on changing the premiums employers pay to the PBGC was another emerging issue in the second-quarter filings. Many companies made big contributions to their pension plans in 2016, which practitioners told Bloomberg BNA could be the result of Trump’s proposal to lower corporate taxes.

Companies can currently pick up a 35 percent tax deduction with their contributions, but that could drop to 15 percent under the president’s proposal.

Another issue with PBGC premiums is that they’re often used as a revenue generator by the federal government. There’s been a move in Congress to ensure that PBGC premiums aren’t used to pad the government’s pockets.

“We’re concerned that lawmakers might see PBGC premiums as an easy source of revenue,” Hammersla said. Over the past five to six years the American Benefits Council has seen an increase in PBGC premiums, he said.

General Motors, Ford Motor Co., and Kellogg Co. all lobbied on the issue of PBGC premiums in the second quarter.

To contact the reporters on this story: Madison Alder and Jasmine Han in Washington at malder@bna.com and yhan@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bna.com

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