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The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. President Joe Biden on Tuesday night will stand before a joint session of Congress for the first time since voters in the midtem elections handed control of the House to Republicans. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

More than 240 Colorado businesses, organizations and government entities spent nearly $56 million on lobbying at the federal level in 2022.

Total spending increased 54% from 2018 to 2022 as Congress responded to the coronavirus pandemic by spending trillions of dollars aimed at keeping the U.S. from economic collapse. 

Most of the top federal lobbying spenders from Colorado in 2022 were corporations, but the University of Colorado also ranked among the top 15 spenders. Those top 15 spenders accounted for 45% of the state’s federal lobbying spending last year.

Federal disclosure law doesn’t require exact reporting, instead requiring lobbyists to report income rounded up or down to the nearest $10,000. Thus, totals are approximate.

Most spending is from private companies

Technology, aerospace and agriculture companies were among Colorado’s top spenders on federal lobbying last year.

Nearly 70% of the $25 million spent on federal lobbying by the state’s top 15 spenders went to in-house lobbying teams, although most of those companies and organizations also employed external lobbying firms as they sought to influence Congress and/or federal agencies.

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Palantir Technologies, a data analysis company that moved to Denver from California in 2020, topped the spending list at nearly $2.9 million. Of that, $2.7 million went to an in-house lobbying team. Palantir, founded by conservative billionaire Peter Thiel, benefits from government contracts.

The company’s lobbying efforts targeted technology spending, privacy legislation and homeland security policy. 

Nutrien US, a Denver-based agricultural company, was No. 2 on the list after spending $2.8 million on federal lobbying. United Launch Alliance and Maxar Technologies, space technology companies, spent $2.5 million and $2.4 million on lobbying, respectively.

Of the top 15 spenders, only six are also registered as lobby clients at the state level: Nutrien, Maxar, Western Union, CoBank, University of Colorado and VF Corp.

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a national law and lobbying firm based in Denver, topped the list of lobbying firms representing Colorado clients in 2022, reporting nearly $3.4 million in income. The firm is also No. 1 in federal lobbying revenue nationally after bringing in nearly $61 million last year.

Squire Patton Boggs, an international law and lobbying firm with offices in Denver, reported receiving $1.2 million from federal lobbying clients in Colorado in 2022. The firm brought in $25.2 million nationally for federal lobbying.

Government bodies focus on getting slice of federal funding pie

Two-thirds of Squire Patton Boggs’ 2022 federal lobbying income from Colorado clients came from government entities, including Democratic Gov. Jared Polis’ office.

The governor’s office first signed a lobbying contract worth up to $144,000 annually with Squire Patton Boggs in June 2019, six months after Polis took office. The governor’s 2018 campaign communications manager, Mara Sheldon, took a job at the firm in 2019 and continues to work there. She’s one of the primary Squires Patton Boggs lobbyists representing the governor’s office.

The contract has steadily increased since Polis’ first year in office, reaching up to $222,000 in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Some of those increases are because the lobbying firm also took on work representing History Colorado as part of the governor’s office contract as the organization seeks federal grants. 

Conor Cahill, a spokesman for Polis’ office, said the money spent to employ Squires Patton Boggs is worth it.

“Most states maintain a federal lobbying presence,” Cahill wrote in a statement. “The firm also provides visibility for the state into myriad grant opportunities, resulting in millions of federal dollars for the state.”

Squires Patton Boggs helped Colorado secure federal funding through congressional measures passed in response to COVID-19, as well as money from the bipartisan infrastructure measure signed into law last August, the governor’s office said. The infrastructure funding included $121 million for Colorado water projects, $100 million to improve Interstate 70 in the mountains and $43 million to bring broadband to the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

The lobbying firm will be paid up to $252,000 a year to represent the governor’s office in the next fiscal year. 

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Squire Patton Boggs has never reported receiving the maximum allowed under the contracts, probably because of rules requiring reporting to the nearest $10,000. The firm reported receiving $160,000 in each of the first three fiscal years of the contract.

Other Colorado government entities spend more lobbying the federal government than Polis’ office.

The University of Colorado spent the most at the federal level among Colorado government entities at more than $981,000, while Colorado State University spent $550,000 and RTD spent $280,000.

CU receives more than $1.4 billion annually in federal grants, spokesman Ken McConnellogue said in a statement, helping the university system rank in the top 15 nationally.

“It’s important for us to maintain relationships in Washington to educate policymakers and to work with federal agencies that fund us,” he wrote. “Our work not only enhances our educational enterprise, but also makes vital contributions to important sectors including energy, space, biotechnology, health care and cybersecurity.”

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 7:4o a.m. on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023, to correct a headline error. More than 240 Colorado businesses, organizations and government entities spent nearly $56 million on lobbying at the federal level in 2022.

Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette