US Lobbyists Compete to Influence Voter Legislation

By Hannah Cai
Hannah Cai
Hannah Cai
October 12, 2021 Updated: October 12, 2021

On Oct. 5, the premier watchdog group OpenSecrets reported that lobbying groups spent over $151.2 million on voting legislation in the first half of this year to ensure U.S. voting laws are conducive to the needs of Democratic lawmakers.

After Democrats assumed control of the government in 2021, the principal focus of their lobbying has been to secure a minimum of 60 votes so the “For the People Act” (H.R. 1) advances to the Senate floor after Senate Republicans blocked the bill, according to OpenSecrets’ analysis that 122 groups spent more than $119.5 million lobbying to support the bill and other issues.

H.R. 1 is a sweeping reform of current election law. If passed, H.R. 1 would allow nationwide mass mail-in voting; pre-register 16- and 17-year-olds; legalize early voting permanently; enable automatic voter registration, same-day registration, and no-fault absentee balloting; allow felons who’ve completed their sentences to vote; and lessen the verification requirements for online voter registrants.

Over the six-month lifespan of H.R. 1, among the lobbyists committed to supporting these initiatives, OpenSecrets found the U.S. Chamber of Commerce invested the most at $29.6 million while Facebook spent $9.6 million, and the Business Roundtable came in third at $8.8 million. But H.R. 1 is not the only voting bill House Democrats are relying on.

The “Freedom to Vote Act,” the latest in a long line of voting legislation backed by a large number of lobbying groups, is likely submitted to the Senate floor this week. If passed, the bill would automate voter registration, force states to allow “Election Day voter registration,” expand the feasibility of early and mail-in voting and create new guidelines for gerrymandering. Gerrymandering refers to manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency to favor one party.

Last August, House Democrats worked with 21 lobbyist groups that collectively spent nearly $10.8 million to force passage of H.R. 4, the “John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.” This act counters the multiple states that recently passed laws to prevent future voter fraud. H.R. 4 seeks to prevent certain states from enacting voter ID laws, and the lobbyists behind this act included the AFL-CIO, the left-leaning nonprofit Sixteen Thirty Fund, and the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights.

The surge in voting legislation comes after former President Donald Trump and some Republicans cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 election, with Trump claiming there was election fraud. After the election, several Republican governors introduced legislation to improve confidence in election results.

For example, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis enacted a law that requires voter ID, and prohibits mass mail-in ballots and ballot harvesting. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp enacted a law that limits ballot drop boxes and requires voters to reapply for absentee ballots during each general election cycle.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott enacted a similar law that restricts mail-in voting, drive-through voting, and 24-hour voting services in his state, but also expanded poll watcher protections and created a new monthly voter roll check to identify non-citizens.

Hannah Cai