In an extensive report on lobbying efforts in Washington, Games Industry International reveals that the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) spends more on lobbying efforts than the National Rifle Association – on paper, at least. But in reality a good lobbyist knows all the tricks of influence peddling through other spending that doesn't have to be reported because it isn't technically considered lobbying.
First the numbers: according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), the ESA reported $4.83 million in lobbying in 2012, compared to $2.98 million from the NRA. But according to information from OpenSecrets.org, the CRP tracks three specific areas of influence: lobbying, contributions, and outside spending. When it comes to donations the NRA leaves the ESA in the dust: the NRA spent $1.52 million on contributions in the current election cycle compared to the ESA's $510,000. The outside spending related to the NRA is also staggering, because the ESA doesn't engage in that practice at all. The NRA's outside spending comes to $19.77 million, while the ESA's was $0.
But even those numbers do not include the spending that the NRA pays for that it doesn't have to report on because it isn't considered lobbying. Former NRA political director and current president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association Richard J. Feldman explains that particular reporting loophole:
"You can report everything you do as lobbying, but the requirement to do so is much more limited," Feldman explained to GII. "If you send money or have a flier urging support of, say, Senate Bill 25, it's lobbying. If you send fliers talking about the issue but not the specific bill, it's not lobbying… So I might think I'm lobbying. You might think I'm lobbying. But I'm not required to report it unless I'm lobbying for specific legislation."
Feldman goes on to explain why the NRA is much more effective in its lobbying efforts than most organizations, and why it puts fear in the hearts of politicians. He also offers some practical advice to the ESA on how its efforts can be more successful.
The report also talks with former Motion Picture Association of America director of federal affairs and current National Music Publishers' Association SVP of government affairs Christopher Cylke about the battle to get SOPA passed.
"Trust me, I was right in the middle of the whole SOPA thing, and it was not something I'd ever like to relive," Cylke tells GII. "I'll avoid going into any of the details on my feelings about what exactly happened there. But there certainly is sometimes a tension, and there are other groups out there as well fanning the flames and pushing customers in another direction, saying 'Hey, these folks are screwing you.' That's why I think it's effective and a good policy and strategy for industry organizations like the music, movie, and gaming industry, frankly, to go directly to their customers sometimes and say, 'This is what we're doing, this is why we're doing it, and ultimately, this is the benefit to you.'"
You can check out the full report on GII. It's one of the most insightful pieces I've read on lobbying in a very long time.