The magazine industry’s two most powerful associations;The Magazine Publishers of America and American Business Media, its trade publishing equivalent;together spend close to $800,000 a year on lobbying efforts, representatives from the two associations say.
The number is a small fraction of their overall budgets, a surprising revelation for an industry that is sometimes criticized for its monetary excesses.
Since 2002, the MPA has spent roughly $500,000 to $600,000 a year, according to Howard Polskin, a representative for the association.
Earlier this week, The New York Times uncovered a wrinkle in the ongoing investigation into a corruption scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff that put the MPA and, to a lesser degree, ABM, temporarily on guard. The Times reported that in 2000, the MPA paid at least $1.4 million to Abramoff’s firm, Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, primarily to lobby against postal-rate increases. The paper reported that some of the association’s money, part of a broader $10 million postal rate campaign "may have been funneled to Mr. Abramoff’s political allies." The same year, Abramoff left Preston Gates, and the MPA dropped the firm in 2003.
"I want to assure everyone that MPA has done nothing wrong," MPA chairman Jack Kliger wrote in an e-mail to the association’s voting reps. "If anything, MPA may be a victim of Abramoff’s indefensible conduct."
The MPA is currently involved with three lobbyist firms, according to Polskin: Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock and Ricchetti, Inc., which represent the MPA’s interests in intellectual property and copyright, First Amendment and tax issues; and Dehart & Darr, who work on consumer protection privacy and tax issues at the state level, according to Polskin.
According to ABM president Gordon Hughes, the association spent roughly $250,000 in the past year on lobbying efforts, an increase from its average of $175,000 over the past several years. (According to the association’s annual report, however, ABM spent $991,626 of its $5.4 million budget on Washington representation in 2005; Hughes says that includes lobbying as well as fees for ABM’s Washington counsel, Thompson Coburn, and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, its New York-based general counsel.)
Hughes says the increase in lobbying expenses was primarily for the postal rate case and the hiring of the Wexler & Walker Group; whose clients include General Motors and Lockheed Martin, according to Hoover’s. ABM also retains the Evans Capitol Group in Washington. "We don’t do a lot of lobbying," says Hughes. "Where we’ve used lobbying, it’s postal reform." Hughes also sent an e-mail to members after the Times article was published assuring them that the association had no ties to Abramoff.
Despite their lobbying efforts, however, the Postal Service approved a 5.4 percent rate hike last Fall. (The hike, however, was considerably less than the double-digit figure some in the industry feared.) Representatives of both associations say there are no explicit benchmarks or guarantees of results tied to the lobbying arrangement beyond educating Capitol Hill about the industry’s concerns.
"(ABM’s interests) aren’t about Viagra," says Hughes. "We’re talking about business."