MUCH as some businesses whine about government intrusion, others do pretty well out of it. An index based on the amount of lobbying that American firms do has outperformed the broader market since its creation in 2008; data going back to 1998 show that it has done better over the longer term, too.
The index is produced by Strategas, an investment-research firm. A first effort, to rank firms on the amount they spend on lobbying, was no use: it just corresponded with the largest firms. Strategas now looks at the intensity of lobbying—expenditure as a percentage of assets—to create an index of 50 firms that is revised quarterly.
In aggregate the results have been stunning, comparable to the returns of the most blistering hedge fund. The index has outperformed the S&P500 by 11% a year since 2002 (see chart). There have been bumps along the way: the index fell sharply in 2008 and again this summer, when debt-ceiling brinkmanship raised the prospect of government austerity. But at other times, it seems remarkable that companies would do anything but lobby. A particularly vivid example was in 2004, when an aggressive corporate campaign prompted Congress to grant a one-off tax holiday for American companies to repatriate foreign earnings. The outright return on lobbying costs, according to one of the various studies that served as inspiration for the Strategas index, was $220 for each $1 spent.
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