Politics

Big Professional Groups Use Members’ Partisan Sway To Get Their Way

REUTERS/Stephen Lam

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Some of the nation’s largest professional associations claim to be non-partisan, but they employ small armies of lobbyists and legions of their members and employees write checks worth millions of dollars to candidates and political action committees.

Among the biggest professional associations are those for health professionals, lawyers, accountants and realtors.

Lawyers are largely one-sided politically, with individual donors listing the American Bar Association as their employer or professional affiliation giving 89 percent of their donations since 1992 to Democrats ($127,334), and 10 percent to Republicans ($14,700), according to Opensecrets.org data. The ABA has nearly 400,000 members.

Realtors are a little more balanced. Since 1990, members and employees of the National Realtors Association have split PAC donations somewhat evenly between the two parties — nearly $25 million to Democrats, and more than $26 million to Republicans.

The 1.1 million member realtors group had 39 lobbyists on its payroll last year, spending about $50 million influencing legislation, according to Opensecrets.org.

The American Medical Association’s contributing members sent 60 percent of their more than $30 million in PAC donations since 1990 to Republicans, and 40 percent to Democrats. The AMA casts its net wide, making it the top donor to hundreds of candidates and members of Congress through the years.

AMA, armed with 46 lobbyists this year, spent more on lobbying in the second quarter of 2015 than any other organization except the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and more in a single quarter than any since 2008 — more than $12 million.

Like physicians, accountants aligned with the roughly 400,000-member American Institute of Certified Public Accountants also lean right in their donations. The AICPA PAC has donated since 1990 $10.3 million to GOP candidates, compared to $6.7 million to Democrats.

Professional associations sometimes delve into polarizing issues that bear little or no connection to their members’ interests.

The ABA, for instance, lobbied for California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill, the Respect for Marriage Act, which would have repealed the Defense of Marriage Act.

It also consistently lobbies for tougher restrictions on background checks and ownership for guns, and has a Standing Committee on Gun Violence. The ABA has pushed bills requiring background checks for all gun sales, and banning assault weapons.

The AMA lobbied hard in favor of Obamacare, even though most physicians at the time disapproved of the legislation.

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