Rise of Unions Good News for Democrats, Fall of Christian Coalition May Hurt Republicans
Despite this having been the worst year in memory for mass shootings, FORTUNE's annual survey of the most powerful lobbying organizations revealed that the National Rifle Association (NRA) was considered the most influential by lawmakers and congressional staffers_the capital insiders closest to the lobbying action. The NRA also ranked No. 2 overall in the annual, mail-in survey which asked all manner of Washington players, such as lobbyists, trade association executives as well as lawmakers and their staffers, to rate the influence of lobbying, coming in just behind the perennial No. 1 in FORTUNE's Power 25, the Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Rounding out the list of the top five interest groups are: National Federation of Independent Business (also tied at No. 2); American Israel Public Affairs Committee (down from No. 2 last year to No. 3); and the AFL-CIO (No. 5). FORTUNE's Power 25 list and the accompanying article "Follow the Money" by FORTUNE's Washington Bureau Chief Jeff Birnbaum, appear in the December 6 issue of FORTUNE and are available on www.fortune.com as of Monday, November 15, at 8:30 a.m. ET.
In addition to the NRA's growing influence despite a politically hostile climate, the 1999 Power 25 survey revealed a new set of winners and losers among Washington powerbrokers that may impact next year's elections. In what amounts to good news for Al Gore_who hopes to win the Democratic presidential nomination on the back of labor support_five of the Power 25 groups were from organized labor, the largest number of unions since the survey began in 1997. A newcomer this year was the United Auto Workers union (No. 24), and rejoining the list after an absence last year were the National Governors' Association (No. 12), and two more unions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (No. 22) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (No. 23).
Four groups disappeared from the Power 25, including two from the troubled insurance industry: The Independent Insurance Agents of America fell from No. 12 last year to No. 26, and The American Council of Life Insurance slipped from No. 23 to No. 30. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (No. 27) also fell from the top echelon, ending the presence of any veterans' groups in the Power 25. The Christian Coalition experienced the biggest fall from grace. For the past two years it ranked No. 7; this year it fell to No. 35_most likely due to the top management shakeout following the departure of its charismatic executive director, Ralph Reed.
Calculating the results according to the respondents' political party also produced interesting results. The Democrats' list included one other union, the American Federation of Teachers, as well as Emily's List, a bundler of donations to Democratic, pro-choice women candidates. The Republican 25 chose the National Federation of Independent Business, the small business lobby, over the AARP as their No. 1, and included two stalwart trade associations, Associated Builders and Contractors and the National Association of Wholesaler Distributors.
While no one disputes that money buys influence in the nation's capital, the 1999 Power 25 survey revealed that traditional lobbying expenditures_in Birnbaum's words "the oldest, most straightforward, unglamorous, inoffensive type of influence peddling" buy the most. According to the FORTUNE survey, the more money a group spent on its plain old lobbying efforts in Washington, the more influence it wielded.
Polling for the Power 25 was conducted by the Mellman Group, a Democratic firm, and Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican outfit, who each polled Washington insiders_lawmakers, lobbyists, and congressional and White House aides_to asses, on a scale of 0 to 100, which of the 114 trade associations, labor unions, and interest groups have the clout to get things done. FORTUNE's pollsters asked participants to rate any lobbying group that ranked in the top 50 in the first two years of the Power 25 survey, as well as dozens of other organizations that qualified as major money players: any group with a PAC that gave at least $1 million or contributed $100,000 or more in soft money during the last election; and any group that spent $2 million or more on federal lobbying last year.