Washington Sees Surge in Groups Lobbying on AI as Large Tech Companies Take Lead

The number of groups lobbying the U.S. federal government on artificial intelligence nearly tripled from 2022 to 2023, rocketing from 158 to 451 organizations, according to data from OpenSecrets, a nonprofit that tracks and publishes data on campaign finance and lobbying. Data on the total amount spent on lobbying by each organization and interviews with two congressional staffers, two nonprofit advocates familiar with AI lobbying efforts, and two named experts suggest that large technology companies have so far dominated efforts to influence potential AI legislation. And while these companies have publicly been supportive of AI regulation, in closed-door conversations with officials they tend to push for light-touch and voluntary rules, say Congressional staffers and advocates.

In November 2022, OpenAI released its chatbot, ChatGPT. Six months later, leading AI researchers and industry executives signed a warning that “the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.” Lawmakers around the world sat up and took notice. U.S. President Joe Biden signed a sweeping AI Executive Order; the E.U. modified its landmark AI law to ensure the models that power chatbots like ChatGPT are regulated; and the U.K. government convened the world’s first AI Safety Summit.

While Congress has yet to pass any AI-specific legislation, there has been a flurry of AI-related activity on the Hill, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer convening “” to educate Congress on the rapidly-evolving technology. As substantial federal AI legislation began to be seen as a possibility, lobbyists flooded into the Capitol to promote their organizations’ interests.

“Obviously Congress has been writing bills on AI for a long, long time—this is not new. What’s new is the scale at which Congress is writing bills and putting them out,” says Divyansh Kaushik, a vice president at D.C.-based advisory firm Beacon Global Strategies. “That’s what’s driving a lot of this engagement.”

New faces

Of the 451 organizations that lobbied on AI in 2023, 334—nearly three quarters of the total number—did so for the first time in 2023. Present in the crowd of new organizations pushing for time with staffers and lawmakers on the Hill were the relatively young companies building the most advanced AI models, such as OpenAI, Anthropic, and Cohere.

The OpenSecrets data is an imperfect measure; it tracks AI-specific lobbying by searching the lobbying disclosure forms that organizations are required to file quarterly for the words “artificial intelligence” or “AI.” Two Congressional staffers TIME spoke with suggested that the number of lobbyists they personally had met with remained roughly the same. However, they said AI has become a much more common topic of discussion. “Everybody who comes in and talks to us and wants to talk about AI,” said one Congressional staffer, who asked to remain anonymous as they weren’t authorized to speak about discussions with lobbyists and advocates.

For example, companies such as payment card company Visa, pharmaceutical conglomerate GSK, and accounting firm Ernst and Young began to mention AI in their lobbying disclosure forms. Company interests were also represented by industry trade associations, such as BSA The Software Alliance. Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and startup accelerator Y Combinator also lobbied on AI for the first time in 2023, according to the OpenSecrets analysis.

Many civil society organizations lobbied on AI issues for the first time in 2023, too. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations—the largest U.S. federation of trade unions—joined the fray, as did top civil rights organization the NAACP. More tech-focused civil society organizations, such as the Omidyar Network and the Mozilla Foundation also joined the fray. Non-profit organizations focused on threats that future AI systems could pose to public safety such as the Center for AI Policy and the Center for AI Safety Action Fund also filed lobbying disclosures for the first time this year. Finally, a number of universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University reported lobbying on AI in 2023.

Big Tech’s deep pockets

All organizations that carry out lobbying, the legal definition of which only includes directly discussing specific laws or regulations, are required to report how much they spent on lobbying. However, this data is only reported as a general total figure, meaning it’s impossible to know how much of this total amount each organization is spending on AI-related lobbying specifically, versus other policy issues. But by this crude metric, many of the newcomers are significantly outspent by the big technology companies, which have been ramping up their lobbying expenditures for a decade.

In 2023, Amazon, Meta, Google parent company Alphabet, and Microsoft each spent more than $10 million on lobbying, according to data provided by OpenSecrets. The Information Technology Industry Council, a trade association, spent $2.7 million on lobbying. In comparison, civil society group the Mozilla Foundation spent $120,000 and AI safety nonprofit the Center for AI Safety Action Fund spent $80,000.

Given that the definition of lobbying only includes speaking with staffers about specific laws, these figures likely underestimate the amounts of money that tech companies are spending to influence lawmakers, says Hamza Chaudhry, a U.S. Policy Specialist at the Future of Life Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on risks posed by advanced technologies.

Multiple advocates and Hill sources suggested that the consistently large amounts spent by the big technology companies has allowed them to build up a sophisticated lobbying apparatus that has so far outgunned the efforts of other organizations. “There’s been a sprouting up of all these AI safety lobby groups and also lots of civil society groups that now are starting up their AI focuses, but by far the best at it are the tech groups,” said another Congressional staffer, who also wished to remain anonymous because they weren’t authorized to speak about discussions with lobbyists and advocates. Tech companies are able to spend more and thus pay for more experienced lobbyists, who better understand the technical details of their brief better and have a more extensive network on the Hill, the staffer said.

“I would still say that civil society—and I’m including academia in this, all sorts of different people—would be outspent by big tech by five to one, ten to one,” says Chaudhry.

Public statements vs. private lobbying

What exactly is the tech industry lobbying for? Some in the industry are against regulating AI, arguing