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How to understand the state of the union from money-in-politics perspective

Author: Tatyana Monnay and Brian Johnson

“How to Understand the State of the Union from Money-in-Politics Perspective.” OpenSecrets News, 4 Feb. 2020,

In the final State of the Union address of his first term, President Donald Trump plans to keep the speech focused on uniting the Republican base and garnering excitement for his potential second term.

Not only will Trump address traditional Republicans, but he also plans to try to attract undecided voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Reports suggest Trump will not mention impeachment but will focus on the economy, border security, criminal justice reform, the opioid epidemic, school choice, trade and health care.


According to reports, Trump will use his airtime Tuesday night to highlight the achievements of his administration — one of those being improvements in the economy.

This won’t be the first time that Trump boasted about his successful economic policies, citing himself as the catalyst for improved economic growth in the last few years.

Overall, the U.S. economy is doing well, and a majority of Americans are satisfied with the state of the economy, according to a new Gallup survey. The unemployment rate is 3.5 percent in January 2020, but experts predict it will rise to 3.7 by 2022. That is still in line with the Federal Reserve’s natural rate of unemployment.

In 2018, Trump signed the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, which decreased regulations for the financial sector. More than 250 organizations lobbied on the legislation and others like it on behalf of the commercial banking industry. More than 650 organizations hired lobbyists to influence financial sector policy.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent nearly $95 million in 2018 and more than $77 million in 2019 on lobbying to influence financial legislation, making them the top spender for the last two years.

The S&P 500 has grown more than 50 percent since Trump was elected, according to CNBC. Typically presidents in the third year of their presidency experience a 23 percent average market growth, according to Bespoke Investment Group. In the second year of Trump’s term, the S&P reached an all-time high in November 2019.

The securities and investment industry, which includes Wall Street donors, contributed $217 million to outside spending groups in the 2018 election cycle. Almost half of that went to conservative groups. In the 2016 presidential election, the industry was one of Trump’s biggest benefactors, with $20.8 million in candidate committee and outside spending combined. The industry has contributed about $2 million to Trump’s 2020 reelection efforts.

Criminal justice reform

Trump will tout his efforts to pass the First Step Act, which introduced various reforms to the criminal justice system. Under the new rules, nonviolent drug offenders will face easier sentences and low-risk prisoners will be offered more rehabilitative and vocational courses during their time behind bars.

Even though the initiative is supported by criminal justice advocacy groups, they are also critical of Trump’s support of private prisons. Geo Group, for instance, also detains immigrants seeking asylum, waiting on hearings in immigration courts and identified for removal from the U.S.

On his way to the presidency, private prisons such as GEO Group and CoreCivic were some of Trump’s biggest benefactors from the industry. In the 2016 election cycle, the industry gave an unprecedented $1.7 million to candidates, parties and outside groups. Most of the money went to Republicans.

GEO Group spent close to $1.5 million on lobbying in each of the last three years. The group also hired lobbyist Brian Ballard, who served as vice-chair on Trump’s inauguration committee and chaired Trump’s joint fundraising committee. At the same time, CoreCivic spent nearly $1.7 million on lobbying in 2019.

Trump aired a 30-second black-and-white television ad during the Super Bowl that featured Alice Marie Johnson, a former prisoner who was facing a life sentence until Trump granted her clemency. The ad, which cost more than $10 million, speaks to a broader message of criminal justice reform the administration is trying to convey to voters.

Opioid Epidemic

Early in his political career, Trump advocated for new policies such as regulating the prescription of opioids to target the opioid crisis and reduce the number of Americans dying from overdoses.

The administration marked the epidemic as a national emergency early in Trump’s presidency and it’s a central part of his national agenda. Trump also touted his success in this area during his last State of the Union address.

Pharmaceutical companies that manufactured or sold opioids were also big political spenders. Purdue Pharma spent $1.1 million on lobbying in 2018. The family that owns Purdue Pharma, the Sacklers, favored Republicans in their political contributions and gave more than $250,000 to their top recipient, the Republican National Committee.


more than 200 lobbyists

were hired to lobby on alcohol and drug abuse issues for the past two years. Trump’s efforts to take on the pharmaceutical companies stalled amid

record lobbying spending


creative tactics

from the industry.

School Choice

A prime initiative of the Trump administration has been promoting school choice as a way to improve educational opportunities. Secretary of Education

Betsy DeVos

has made school choice, especially the option of going to charter, religious or magnet schools,

a priority


DeVos advocated for a federal tax credit program that would give

$5 billion a year

in federal tax credits to anyone who gives money to support scholarships that would allow children to go to private schools, including religious schools.


National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

increased its lobbying expenditures from about $190,000 in 2018 to over $350,000 in 2019. The group lobbied the Department of Education, the president’s office and the House in 2019.


Last week Trump signed the

USMCA trade deal

, which will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The trade deal drove a

record number of clients

to lobby on the issue of trade last year. The trade deal was strongly supported by the

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

, the organization that spent the most

money lobbying

in 2019, at $77.2 million.

The United Kingdom officially left the European Union last week, and that will give Trump an opportunity to create a new trade deal with the U.K. The trade deal may not be as easy to achieve as politicians on both sides of the Atlantic had proclaimed. The farm industry and the pharmaceutical industry will be two contentious issues in the

trade negotiations

. The U.K. has vowed to not negotiate on those issues, but the Trump administration wants to secure a deal that would see U.S. farmers have greater access to the British market.

Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic advisor, expects the president will briefly mention his desire to negotiate trade deals with the U.K. and European Union, he told


. Trump condemned the EU in a recently

released recording

with some of his top mega-donors.

The pharmaceuticals/health industry was the largest lobbying industry last year. Agribusiness is another powerful industry, spending $136.9 million in 2019 on lobbying. Both industries will be determined to lobby the Trump administration to get beneficial terms in the trade deal.

In 2018, Trump increased tariffs on imported solar panels, steel and aluminum. In the meantime, he also engaged in a trade war with China that led to a trade deal that Trump considers another political victory.

China is one of the

top 10 countries

involved in foreign lobbying in the U.S., spending nearly $50 million to influence U.S. policy. In 2018, the country spent nearly

$17 million on lobbying


Health Care

Medicare and Medicaid were among the

top issues

lobbied on during the past two years. In 2018, almost 2,000


worked on behalf of groups such as

Blue Cross


UnitedHealth Group

and others. In 2019, the number of lobbyists ticked up just past 2,000.

The number of insured Americans is decreasing, despite the relatively strong economy. Over the course of his presidency, Trump’s administration

took steps

to weaken the Affordable Care Act by eliminating penalties for not having insurance, reducing enrollment outreach and promoting more short-term insurance plans. This came after a failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now, congressional Republicans and the Trump administration aim to have the law

ruled unconstitutional

by the Supreme Court.

The administration also introduced work requirements for Medicaid, which have

been put on hold by courts

in Arkansas and other states that found the measure to be too limiting.

In 2018, the insurance sector was the

second largest industry in lobbying spending

. In total, the industry, which is

overall supportive of Obamacare

, spent $158 million that year. The number dipped slightly in 2019 when the industry spent about

$155 million in lobbying spending





100 miles

of border walls have been constructed, rebuilt or enhanced along the nearly 2,000 mile-long U.S.-Mexico border as of mid-January. Trump plans to have 450 miles of the border wall built by the end of 2020, which is about 23 percent of the border with Mexico.

There were 1,396 lobbyists who lobbied on immigration issues in 2019, a slight decrease from 2018, and immigration was the 17th most lobbied issue. The CEO of a

North Dakota company

that won a $400 million contract to construct part of the border wall,

Fisher Sand and Gravel,

went on Fox News to

promote his company

, and he was able to get Sen.

Kevin Cramer

(D-N.D.) to directly lobby Trump. The company also spent $75,000 on lobbying in 2018.

DMU Timestamp: February 03, 2020 23:30

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