Just six percent of the companies that received COVID-related contracts lobbied the federal government in 2020, but they received more than half of the money that was awarded to combat the pandemic, $19.4 billion, according to a report released by Public Citizen and the Center for Responsive Politics.
“The striking share of COVID dollars that went to contractors who engaged in federal lobbying raises questions about whether the work of professional influencers figured into procurement decisions,” said Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of Public Citizen. “These findings point to the need for greater oversight to ensure that contracts were issued on the basis of merit, not connections.”
“Findings like these raise larger questions – not only about whether money had undue influence on government contracts during a national crisis, but also whether this happens under normal circumstances,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “To what degree do the billions spent annually on lobbying skew policies and decisions away from the greater good on a systemic level? This study is a good place to start examining that question.”
Among the findings of the report:
- Just 2 percent of the COVID contractors lobbied either the Trump administration or the agency that awarded them a contract and reported lobbying on specific COVID-related issues. These companies received 37 percent of the money, $13.4 billion. They dispatched more than 3,500 lobbyists to Capitol Hill, federal agencies, and the White House in 2020.
- The 107 companies that lobbied the White House on COVID issues received $11.9 billion.
- The PACs and employees of companies that lobbied their awarding agency or the White House on COVID issues gave $313 million in campaign contributions to Donald Trump, members of Congress, and party committees from the 2016 to 2020 election cycles.
- Across all contractors, recipients of nearly $400 million in ventilator contracts and more than $50 million in COVID testing contracts lobbied the government for the first time ever in 2020.
Among COVID contract recipients, a Silicon Valley data firm whose founder and chairman served on Trump’s 2016 transition team received more than $40 million. The founder also was a business partner of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who reportedly ran a shadow COVID task force.
A North Carolina textiles company that had previously received just one very small government contract received nearly $600 million in contracts for protective wear and other supplies. The company hosted Vice President Pence a year earlier for a speech, and its CEO is a major Republican donor.
A vendor that received $50 million in contracts from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was represented by a former chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs committee who also served as an informal spokesman for Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.