Is the Ex-Im bank really doomed? Not likely, if you look at historical lobbying efforts

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With the demise of Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., some are wondering whether House Republicans will now hold up a $160 billion funding authorization for the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im bank), which provides loan guarantees for overseas companies to buy U.S. goods.

After all, the program — which Cantor supported — has increasingly been in the cross-hairs of conservative groups like Americans for Prosperity and The Heritage Foundation, who see it as blatant corporate welfare (see, for example, this ad from Americans for Prosperity). House Financial Services Committee Chair Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, has come out strongly against the bank. The news of Cantor’s demise even appears to have caused a temporary dip in the stock price of Boeing, which is the company that has historically benefited the most from the Ex-Im bank.

But if the lobbying history on this issue is any indication, don’t look for the Ex-Im bank to go away anytime soon. A new Sunlight Foundation analysis of the 20 organizations that have lobbied the most on the Export-Import bank since 2008 shows that 19 of 20 support and benefit from the bank (see Figure 1).

fig 1 -Ex-Im-mentions-by-orgs_01
Figure 1. Graphic credit: The Sunlight Foundation

The argument against the Ex-Im bank, in the words of one critic, is that “the bank is a conduit for corporate welfare beset by unreliable risk management, inefficiency, and cronyism.” Critics deride it as the “Bank of Boeing,” since Boeing is by far the top beneficiary of the bank’s funds: Between 2008 and 2013, Ex-Im financed almost $50 billion worth of funding for Boeing, as compared to $5.2 billion for General Electric and $5.1 billion for Bechtel Corp.

Meanwhile, defenders of the bank argue that it supports good manufacturing jobs and helps American companies compete abroad. The most recent Congressional Budget Office report finds that under current budgeting standards, taxpayers appear to benefit from the program.

Regardless of the merits, one thing is clear: The corporate beneficiaries of the Ex-Im have all been extremely active in their support of the bank for years. Opponents have not (see Figure 2). Not surprisingly, some of the heaviest lobbying has been around the last reauthorization of the bank, in 2012.

fig 2 - ex-im-tilegrid-binned_01
Figure 2. Graphic credit: The Sunlight Foundation

Of the 20 most active organizations on the issue, only one — Delta Airlines — has been opposed to the Ex-Im bank. Delta doesn’t like the bank subsidizing competing foreign airlines to buy Boeing planes cheaply, which it argues gives those airlines an unfair advantage. In a statement on the Ex-Im bank, Delta said that it “continues to urge members of Congress to enact reforms that will ensure that the bank provides support to U.S. manufacturers without damaging the ability of U.S. airlines and their employees to compete in the global marketplace.”

Not surprisingly, the most active lobbying force in favor of the Ex-Im Bank is Boeing, which has always been the largest beneficiary of the bank’s loan guarantees (an estimated 45 percent of the bank’s activity helps Boeing). Boeing has filed 57 reports mentioning the bank, more than twice as many as Delta (27 reports). Boeing also spends more overall on lobbying than Delta. In 2013, Boeing spent $15.2 million on lobbying, while Delta spent $3.0 million

The five organizations with the most lobbying reports mentioning the Ex-Im Bank also include two tied with 22 reports: World Business Capital, which appears to provide some of the loans that Ex-Im guarantees, and Aerospace Industries Association of America, the defense industry trade association (and, not surprisingly, an advocate for the bank).

Next on the list is another tie — two organizations with 17 reports:

  • The Coalition for Employment Through Exports Inc., an “export promotion/advocacy” organization that includes many large manufacturers, and
  • Ford Motor Company, which received a “Deal of the Year” award from the Ex-Im bank in 2011. According to an Ex-Im press release, “Ford is using a $250 million Ex-Im Bank-guaranteed working capital line of credit to finance approximately $3.1 billion in sales of over 200,000 vehicles to buyers in Canada and Mexico.”

Also of note on the list is Halliburton (10 reports), Dick Cheney’s old company, which once secured a large Ex-Im loan to help a dubious Russian oil company refurbish a Siberian oil field.

Certainly, opponents of the Ex-Im bank appear to be gaining a wider audience. But they are up against the lobbying muscle of companies and industries that have been successfully lobbying in the support of the bank for years, and also have millions of dollars in sales at stake. Which means that, barring a remarkable reversal, the Ex-Im bank will almost certainly be re-authorized once again this year.