Politics

Companies that received Covid government contracts under Trump administration ramped up lobbying

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Key Points
  • A new report says that in 2020, more than $13 billion in coronavirus government contracts went to corporations that heavily lobbied the Trump administration.
  • Though the report notes there is no indication that these companies inappropriately received government contracts, the study says the "heavy lobbying effort and occasional close personal ties between contract recipients and government decision makers raises questions."
  • Palantir Technologies and Regeneron, both with ties to former President Donald Trump, are among companies cited in the study.

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Karen Bleier | AFP | Getty Images

Corporations that received millions of dollars in Covid-related government contracts under the Trump administration also initiated large-scale lobbying campaigns, according to a new report.

The study, first shared with CNBC, was conducted by the Center for Responsive Politics and Public Citizen.

The report says that in 2020, out of the more than $36 billion companies saw in coronavirus government contracts, over $13 billion was given to corporations that heavily lobbied the Trump administration. On Covid and other lobbying issues, companies that received government contracts linked to the coronavirus pandemic combined to spend $372 million on lobbying campaigns in 2020. That's just under the amount they spent in 2019.

Palantir Technologies is among companies cited in the study. The software company was co-founded by Peter Thiel, an ally of former President Donald Trump.

Though the report notes there is no indication that these companies inappropriately received government contracts, the study says the "heavy lobbying effort and occasional close personal ties between contract recipients and government decision makers raises questions." The research does not include any data showing the lobbying coincided with the timing of when these contracts were received.

It also acknowledges that many of the products created by these companies were helpful to the government and the public at large.

"Just 2 percent of all COVID contractors (142 in total) disclosed that they lobbied the Trump White House and/or the agency that awarded them a contract on issues directly related to the pandemic. These 2 percent of contractors received 37 percent – $13.4 billion – of all the contract money awarded," the report notes.

The report mentions the companies that launched extensive lobbying campaigns and received government contracts targeted the Trump administration, including former Vice President Mike Pence's office. Pence was the chair of the coronavirus task force. Some of these companies were previously awarded government contracts under other administrations.

"Of the 142 companies that lobbied either the White House or their awarding agency on COVID issues, 107 lobbied the White House. More than a quarter of the 107 had not previously lobbied the Trump White House," the study says.

The companies mentioned in this story did not return requests for comment.

Palantir received Covid government contracts worth more than $40 million, much of which came from Health and Human Services.

The study notes that some of the contract money paid to Palantir was to develop software called Tiberius, which is being used to help coordinate the distribution of coronavirus vaccines.

The report says Palantir spent more than $2 million on lobbying in 2020, including in the third quarter of that year in which it focused on "education regarding Palantir commercial software, including efforts for the COVID-19 response; highlight commercial benefits of software solutions," the lobbying report says.

The filing notes that Palantir, through the lobbying firm it hired, engaged with members of Congress and HHS leaders.

Palantir spent nearly $1 million more on lobbying in 2020 than it spent in 2019, according to the study.

Regeneron is another company listed as getting a contract while also lobbying government officials. The pharmaceutical giant's Covid antibody treatment was used by Trump himself.

Regeneron, the study says, received Covid-related government contracts from HHS worth more than $145 million for biomedical and research development. The company spent $1.5 million on lobbying in 2020, $430,000 more than in 2019, the study shows.

In the first quarter of 2020, Regeneron lobbied HHS, the Food and Drug Administration, the White House Office and Pence's office on "Biodefense issues relating to biopharmaceutical manufacturers; pandemic readiness and response."

Fitbit, a fitness watch maker, is listed in the report. It notes that the company received $900,000 in Covid government contracts from the Department of Veteran Affairs "for identifying risks with digital health technologies." It spent $800,000 on lobbying in 2020, a jump of 60% compared with the previous year.

In the third quarter of 2020, Fitbit, through a lobbying firm it retained, engaged with members of Congress, HHS and the Executive Office of the President, to "educate policymakers about company initiatives on COVID-19 and benefits of wearable fitness technology; discuss use of aggregated data for public health monitoring," according to the lobbying report.