Lobby of love: Firms in the Valentine’s Day trade have multiple interests in Washington

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To most, Valentine’s Day is all about giving flowers and candy, perhaps sipping champagne, shopping for a sexy outfit or sending a greeting card, but for businesses providing those goods, it’s a money making venture. And, like so many money making ventures, these businesses throw their weight around Washington, hiring lobbyists to influence a range of issues in Washington that affect their bottom lines or the bottom lines of others. Here’s a sampling, culled for lobbying disclosures:

Take the Valentine’s Day card. For the greeting card industry–including Hallmark Cards, American Greetings Corp. and the Greeting Card Association, which represents Hallmark, American Greetings and 136 other members that manufacture pre-packaged sentiments, keeping the financially troubled U.S. Post Office afloat is a top issue. Greeting card manufacturers pushed for everything from the “forever” stamp–the first class stamp that never requires additional postage, even when rates go up–to the preservation of Saturday delivery, which USPS would like to end in a cost-cutting move. Don Hall Jr., Hallmark’s president and CEO, testified before the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee on June 23, 2010, that, rather than cut service or raise prices, the way to balance the Post Office’s books was to raid the fund USPS pays into to fund retirees future health expenses.

Limited Brands, which owns lingerie retailer Victoria’s Secret and the home and beauty products chain Bath and Body Works has been a formidable force in Washington, with reported spending on lobbying averaging more than $750,000 over the last dozen years. The firm’s in-house and outside lobbyists consistently listed foreign trade deals and trade pacts as issues, and until the end of 2010 included former chief of staff for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, Robert D. Lehman of Squire Saunders & Dempsey. The pursuit of retailers like Limited Brands for cheaper sources of apparel is one of the factors that have devastated employment at U.S. factories; in 1990, there were more than 900,000 employed in apparel manufacturing in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; by 2010, that had fallen to less than 160,000. Apparel retailers increased their employment by just 63,000 jobs over the same period.

The Personal Care Products Council, formerly known as the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association battled an effort in the 111th Congress to regulate the cosmetics industry by making perfumeries, lipstick makers and other cosmetic suppliers list their ingredients, have the Food and Drug Administration track adverse events as it does for medicines, and require an alternative way of gauging the safety of cosmetics than testing on animals. The council argued that the bill would “create a mammoth new regulatory structure for cosmetics” that would overwhelm the FDA, and offered its own plan. Lezlee Westine, president and CEO of the council, noted “our industry has lobbied for the last several years to obtain additional funding for FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors.

The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America spent most of last year trying to make sure its members remain middlemen whenever a bottle of bubbly or components of a Valentine’s Day martini are sold by pushing the Comprehensive Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness Act, which would make keep Federal courts out of cases pitting alcohol distributors–a relic of the post-prohibition effort to get organized crime out of the liquor business–against retailers seeking to bypass them and offer consumers more choice and lower prices. Federal courts have done just that in one case involving direct sales by vintners.

The jewelry industry isn’t a massive player on Washington, but a provision in the Dodd-Frank bill related to conflict minerals might change that. Instead, Tiffany & Co. lobbied on, among other things, a bill in the last Congress that could have made gold extraction more expensive by making mine operations more environmentally friendly. Critics charged that the bill would drive smaller mining companies out of business. The measure didn’t pass.

And as for chocolate, the Hershey Company, the Pennsylvania confectioner known for the Kiss, lobbied Washington on labor standards, FDA regulation, agriculture subsidies, sugar quotas and “issues relating to obesity and nutrition as they impact the advertising and marketing of processed food to consumers.” There are 200 calories in every Hershey Kiss serving size.

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