General Motors beefs up lobbying ranks as Congress looks to spend on electrification

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Washington — General Motors Co. bulked up its lobbying ranks over the last week, adding 24 lobbyists from five new firms to bend policymakers' ears about taxes, electric and self-driving vehicles, trade, environmental policy, safety, infrastructure, cybersecurity and more, according to filings reviewed by The Detroit News. 

The move comes as Congress and the White House prepares to spend big on infrastructure, research and development, and other incentives to support electrification. President Joe Biden has said electrifying transportation, which still makes up the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., will be key to reaching the administration's climate goals. 

All but one of the new lobbyists working on GM's behalf have formerly worked on the Hill or in the White House. One used to be a member of Congress himself — former Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat from Arkansas who spent two terms in the upper chamber and now works for Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.

Other former heavy hitters include the former chief of staff to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Nadeam Elshami; Billy Piper, the former chief of staff to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell; Geoffrey Burr, the former Chief of Staff to Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao; and Heather McHugh, former legislative director to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

GM also retains lobbyists in 14 other firms and has seven in-house lobbyists. The company spent $8 million on federal lobbying efforts through the in-house team alone in 2020, according to filings.

Ford Motor Co., too, has rearranged its influence team since it became clear the new administration would be coming into office. It's hired three lobbyists from two new firms since the year began, according to filings, including the former policy director for McConnell and the former Chief of Staff to Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn. 

They join 21 lobbyists from 6 private firms that lobbied on behalf of the company in 2020.

In December, the Blue Oval's top lobbyist retired and Laura Dove, a former top aide to McConnell, took over managing the team. Ford now employs 11 in-house lobbyists and spent $3.2 million on federal lobbying efforts through the in-house team in 2020. 

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, now Stellantis NV, has the smallest lobbying footprint of the Detroit Three in Washington. It brought on one additional lobbyist after the November 2020 election and now has 18 lobbyists representing the company from four private firms, according to filings. It also has 5 in-house lobbyists who spent $2.9 million on influence activities in 2020. 

Spokespeople for Stellantis declined to comment, spokespeople for Ford did not immediately have comment, and spokespeople for GM did not respond to a request for comment. 

The Biden administration and Democrats in Congress have made clear they're willing to spend big to support a transition to electric vehicles, which aligns with the business goals of industry leaders. 

Earlier this year, GM announced it would seek to stop making gas- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2035 and be totally carbon neutral by 2040. Ford said almost all of its European offerings would be all electric or plug-in hybrid by mid-2026, all electric by 2030, and said it would spend $22 billion on EVs through 2025. Stellantis plans to offer electrified versions of each of the vehicles in its portfolio by 2025.

Biden has said he wants to expand consumer tax credits for people buying electric vehicles and pump billions into supporting electric vehicle infrastructure — one of the chief goals of automakers who fear range anxiety and lack of places to charge will stop consumers from buying EVs. 

Democratic members of Congress have introduced legislation to make that a reality, including a bill from Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn that would spend $4.5 billion on electrification infrastructure annually over the next 10 years. And a bill from Rep. Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township would spend more than ten times that much over the same time frame to electrify public transit.

They're likely to be part of a coming tousle in Congress over a proposed $2 trillion infrastructure spending package to revamp the country's roads, bridges, water infrastructure and more.

Twitter: @rbeggin