Washington (CNN) - For the first time in a decade, what corporations, unions and other organizations spend to influence the government may not go up – but lobbying is still a multi-billion dollar business.
According to a new preliminary report by the non-partisan watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics, lobbying spending overall was $3.47 billion in 2010, down slightly from $3.49 billion in 2009.
But the group cautions these are preliminary figures that do not include some of fourth-quarter lobbying reports.
The number of active registered lobbyists declined in 2010 by about five percent, according to the report. But there are still 13,000 lobbyists in Washington – 24 for every member of Congress, according to the group.
Of the more than 2,000 lobbying firms, six of the biggest collected more than $20 million for their work in 2010.
For example, Patton Boggs made $39.6 million; Akin, Gump, $35.6 million; the Podesta Group, run by Democratic insider Tony Podesta, made $29.4 million.
The report says of the biggest lobbying firms earning more than $20 million, the Podesta Group saw the largest increase in revenue between 2009 and 2010 – a 14 percent jump. Podesta's many clients include the government of Egypt.
Big oil companies, which got a lot of attention for lobbying efforts around last year's BP oil spill, appeared to have actually decreased their spending on lobbying. But that appearance may not reflect reality.
According to the report, oil companies like BP and ExxonMobil changed the way they report their expenditures.
By law, companies have the option to only report federal lobbying activity, not state and local activity.
ExxonMobil took advantage of that in 2010, the Center for Responsive Politics says, and reported $12.5 million in lobbying for the year – which appears to be a $15 million drop from 2009.
BP was able to show lower lobbying expenditures for 2010 by instituting accounting changes in its dues to the American Petroleum Institute, an oil trade association.
Therefore, despite huge efforts by BP to try to influence lawmakers and improve its image after the 2010 Gulf oil spill, the company claims to have spent half as much on federal lobbying in 2010 as 2009 – $7.3 million versus $15.99 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics figures.
The report also says, not surprisingly, that spending by big industries with critical legislation before Congress went up in 2010, while others went down from 2009.
For example lobbying spending by the securities industry, including Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, increased 9.4 percent in 2010, as Congress dealt with Wall Street reform.
Health care and pharmaceutical lobbyists decreased spending, after the big health care reform law passed in early 2010.