Airline lobbying: so where’s the money going?

capitolFollow the money. It’s not just a memorable quote from All The President’s Men, but words to live by if you’re one of the last customer advocates standing.

So this morning I decided to do just that with my good friends at the Air Transport Association, who have spent about $2.5 million lobbying Congress so far this year. I suspect the airline advocates had a hand in hijacking the passenger rights cause, which culminated in a media circus earlier this week. Made me wonder where all of ATA’s money was going.

Here’s a bird’s-eye view, according to Opensecrets.org.

As you can see, the ATA works with a network of other law firms to handle its lobbying initiatives.

Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti

How much money: $140,000

Notable other client: JetBlue Airways.

What it did: Lobbied on behalf of its clients on S.213 and H.R.624, which contains provisions referred to as the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Act of 2009.

The buzz: David Castagnetti is a well-respected Democrat that solidified his ties to Capitol Hill as congressional liaison for the 2004 Kerry presidential campaign, according to The Hill.

Capitol Tax Partners

How much money: $120,000

Notable other client: Delta Air Lines.

What it did: Lobbied Congress on behalf of its clients on the HITECH Act, to encourage the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) through incentive payments to physicians and various other legislation unrelated to passenger issues.

The buzz: Capitol Tax Partners specializes in lobbying for tax-related issues.

Morhard & Associates

How much money: $100,000

What it did: Lobbied on behalf of its clients on H.R.915, the Federal Aviation Research and Development Reauthorization Act of 2009, which contains important passenger rights provisions.

Utrecht & Phillips

How much money: $80,000

What it did: Lobbied on behalf of its clients on H.R.624, which contains provisions referred to as the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights Act of 2009.

Lesher & Russell

How much money: $60,000

What it did: Lobbied Congress on behalf of its clients on S.447, the Prevent Excessive Speculation Act, which seeks to stop speculation on oil prices.

Two other firms, Russell & Barron and Law Offices of Kevin G Curtin come in at $50,000 or less. Curtin also represents British Airways.

What does all of this mean?

Well, it’s one thing to say the airline industry is opposed to legislation that would improve passenger welfare, but quite another to see their lobbyists’ names next to the bill. What do you think was said in those meetings? What was promised?

One thing is certain: There is no credible passenger rights group that is counter-balancing the powerful airline lobby. The big show we witnessed earlier this week is no match for the well-organized industry efforts. What’s more, I’m unconvinced that the passenger rights movement hasn’t been compromised — or at the very least, influenced — by airline money.

We shall see. For now, we know that Congress has punted on the FAA Reauthorization Bill, so don’t expect a passenger bill of rights any time soon.

(Photo: wallyg/Flickr Creative Commons)

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