Despite Closeness to White House, Buffett Still Believes in Lobbying

Now that he’s an integral part of the president’s tax-fairness stump speech, you would think Warren Buffett wouldn’t need to spend millions of dollars lobbying Washington.

Nevertheless, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out this week, one of the subsidiaries of his company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., spent more than $1 million to lobby Congress to cut user fees for affluent users of private jets.

Comparatively speaking – comparing among the Berkshire Hathaway many subsidiaries, that is – NetJets was fairly frugal in its lobbying. The largest Berkshire expenditure was by BNSF Railway Company which spent $6,780,000 in 2011.

Berkshire is a mammoth holding company with 185 subsidiaries in 16 countries. Its many interests include insurance, energy, railroads, newspapers, apparel, paints and restaurants.

Only a handful of subsidiaries are registered lobby clients:

Subsidiary 2011 Lobby Expenditures
BNSF Railway Company $6,780,000
MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company $1,664,434
NetJets Inc. $420,000
PacifiCorp $310,000
Shaw Industries Group, Inc. $120,000
Fruit of the Loom, Inc. $96,000
Benjamin Moore & Co. $90,000
McLane Company, Inc. $10,000
Lubrizol Corporation < $5,000 each quarter
Total Berkshire Hathaway Subsidiaries $9,490,434

Sources: First Street, Center for Responsive Politics, Senate Office of Public Records, Securities and Exchange Commission

Berkshire is not registered as a lobby client.

However, subsidiaries employed 56 lobbyists in 2011, including two ex-members of Congress: former Reps. James T. Walsh (R-NY) and Bill Lipinski (D-IL).

The NetJets lobbying effort helped bring about reduced customer fees in a recent Federal Aviation Administration bill.

BNSF Railway (formerly known as Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway) lobbied on issues such as transportation safety, infrastructure spending, labor, regulatory oversight and energy taxes.

MidAmerican Energy Holdings, encompassing utility and pipeline enterprises, also lobbied on tax issues, as well as Dodd-Frank, renewable energy and safety regulations.

Among the issues addressed by PacifiCorp, an electric utility based in Oregon, was licensing disputes in the Klamath River basin.

Georgia-based Shaw Industries Group, the world’s largest carpet manufacturer, lobbied through the Podesta Group. It focused on transportation and reuse of coal residuals.

Apparel manufacturer Fruit of the Loom, bought out of bankruptcy by Berkshire a decade ago, lobbied on trade matters.

No Berkshire company lobbied for the so-called “Buffett Rule,” the Democrats’ proposal that those making more than $1 million a year should have higher tax rates than those earning less.

Obama made a media star of Buffett’s secretary, Debbie Bosanek, after her billionaire boss pointed out that he paid a lower effective tax rate than she did. Bosanek sat with First Lady Michelle Obama during the president’s state of the union speech in January.

The Senate this month blocked the Buffett Rule legislation, proposed by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Rep. Steve Scalis (R-LA) last year proposed an alternative piece of legislation he called the “Buffett Rule Act,” which would add a line to tax returns, enabling taxpayers to make voluntary donations to pay down the deficit.

Only one organization lobbied that measure – Americans for Tax Reform, which opposes tax hikes. The organization, led by registered lobbyist Grover Norquist, spent $400,000 lobbying in 2011.

Norquist has described the Democrats’ proposal as a “third bite of the apple” that would increase tax rates from 15 percent to 30 percent.

“It’s campaigning,” he said. “It’s not governing.”

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