And the biggest corporate lobbyist of the last two decades is …

AT&T.

The communications behemoth — some of my fellow bloggers refer to it as the “Death Star” — has spent $41 million lobbying the federal government in the last two decades, according to OpenSecrets.

It’s the number-one corporate donor, eclipsed only by trade associations such as the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees and ActBlue, the Democratic lobbying group.

A look at the list of corporate lobbyists reveals a few other surprises.

2. United Parcel Service – $24 million
3. Altria Group – $22 million
4. Goldman Sachs – $20 million
5. FedEx Corp – $17 million
6. Lockheed Martin – $16 million
7. Verizon Communications – $16 million
8. Citigroup Inc – $16 million
9. Microsoft Corp. – $15 million
10. General Electric- $15 million

It might be tempting to see this list as a “who’s who” of corporate evil. But look closer. A few names on this list, notably the shipping companies, aren’t at the top of anyone’s “bad” list, as far as I can tell. (Many others, including banks, telecoms and tobacco companies, are.)

This list must also be viewed in context. This is only corporate spending on lobbying. Also represented on this list are trade associations that represent multiple corporate interests. By that account, here’s the top 5 list based on industry:

1. Telecommunications
2. Real estate
3. Lawyers
4. Electricians
5. Labor unions

In other words, there are a lot of special interests in Washington — and they’re not necessarily all bad guys.

What does this mean to you? When corporate interests lobby for favorable laws, there must be pushback from consumers. Otherwise, the playing field isn’t level. We can already see that in telecommunications, where nefarious contracts of adhesion and bad service are the rule rather than the exception.

Do you think the industry’s lobbying has something to do with that? No doubt.

We need to become aware of the forces pulling at government, and we have to push back. Otherwise, we end up being forced into two-year cell phone contracts and an obscene number of dropped calls with our cellular service.

I guess you get the government you pay for.

(Photo: Nontrivia lMatt/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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