The groups who spend the most on lobbying lawmakers in Washington are well-known: ExxonMobil, Boeing, AT&T, General Electric.
But not every dollar spent to gain influence on Capitol Hill comes from a big global industrial behemoth. Hundreds of small advocacy groups and nonprofits spend thousands each year to lobby Congress and federal agencies on the issues they care about most, and their efforts often go under the radar. We've rounded up 10 of the most obscure and fascinating groups—with data on the size of their lobbying efforts drawn from the Center for Responsive Politics—below:
The U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers
This North Carolina-based nonprofit, whose members collectively call themselves "Reptile Nation," advocates for the responsible conservation and care of reptiles, according to its website. The group spent $20,000 in 2012 lobbying for "miscellaneous issues." (We're going to make an educated guess that it was reptile-related.)
The National Association of Ordnance/Explosive Waste
According to the association's website, its objective is to represent the "rapidly expanding business of military munitions response services," whose members include those who deal with unexploded ordnance, known as UO. UO refers to explosive weapons, such as bombs, grenades or land mines, that did not explode as they should have and remain in danger of detonation. The group spent at least $80,000 in 2010 lobbying on defense issues.
The Balloon Council
The Balloon Council has had quite the busy year, because of what it calls the very "real problem" of a shortage in helium. Its efforts include drumming up support for the Helium Stewardship Act, legislation that lays out how to maintain a helium reserve for the future. The council spent $60,000 on its lobbying efforts in 2012.
Cigar Rights Of America
This active group of cigar enthusiasts warns on its website that the "age-old pleasure of enjoying a cigar is under attack" by an "overzealous, anti-smoking movement." Cigar Rights of America recently vocalized its opposition to the proposed regulation of premium cigars by the Food and Drug Administration, and it also opposes general government regulation of cigars, taxation of cigars and smoking bans. The group spent $320,000 on lobbying in 2012.
Sports Fan Coalition
The D.C.-based nonprofit for sports fans works for more affordable seating in stadiums, fights against media blackouts, and tries to prevent future NFL and NBA lockouts. "Fans have spent billions on stadiums – the least owners and players can do is play ball," the Sports Fan Coalition writes on its website. It spent more than $60,000 lobbying last year.
American Pyrotechnics Association
The association that serves the fireworks industry can be conveniently found online at AmericanPyro.com. Its 2012 report found that injuries and fires decreased when consumer fireworks laws were liberalized. The group spent some $14,000 on its lobbying efforts last year.
The American Dehydrated Onion and Garlic Association
This California-based association works to ensure that the federal government continues to enforce protections for the domestic industry of onion and garlic against cheap imports from countries like China. While it once spent $300,000 annually on lobbying efforts, it finished 2012 with expenditures on lobbying of just $20,000.
California Cling Peach Growers
Also from the Golden State, this peach lobby "represents hundreds of family growers," and also works to prevent imports from China, according to its website. It spent $110,000 last year to ensure people "buy American" when they buy cling peaches, a peach known for having a flesh that sticks to the pit.
Catfish Farmers of America
The nonprofit trade association founded in the 1960s has had a busy couple years promoting the catfish, after a heated debate ensued in Congress over the necessity of catfish inspections. The group spent more than $170,000 last year and more than $300,000 in 2011.
Manned Space Flight Education Foundation
This nonprofit is responsible for the Houston Space Center, a facility where the public can come and immerse itself in as much space flight knowledge as possible without actually leaving Earth. Exhibits include "Angry Birds Space" and a video that allows visitors to join the Mars Curiosity rover as it lands on our interstellar neighbor. The group spent $30,000 lobbying for space education last year.