The pharmaceutical and electric utility industries have spent more on lobbying elected officials than any other industry during the first three months of this year, while Big Agriculture has increased its expenditures by almost 50 percent, likely the result of a legislative calendar that pushed those issues to the forefront of the U.S. Congress' agenda early in 2012.

The pharmaceutical industry was the biggest spender between January and March, according to preliminary figures from the latest lobbying disclosures made available by the Center for Responsive Politics. As whole, the industry spent $69.6 million in lobbying -- translating into more than $23 million per month -- during that period, while the electrical utilities industry expended $43.3 million. Although the agricultural industry, which has been up in arms over the reauthorization of 2012 Farm Bill, spent considerably less at $12.9 million, the figure still represented a 48 percent increase over its lobbying in the final three months of 2011

Pharmaceutical Spending Led By Trade Group

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a leading trade group representing pharmaceutical research and biopharmaceutical companies, has been at the forefront of the industry's lobbying push. PhRMA spent $5.2 million lobbying government officials through March, likely connected to the industry's desire to protect existing provisions of Medicare Part D, which subsidizes the cost of prescription drugs for beneficiaries.

Since the Medicare Part D program took effect in 2006, beneficiaries enrolled in the plan have been required to pay the entirety of their prescription drug costs after their total drug spending exceeds an initial coverage limit, until they qualify for catastrophic coverage. Under the Obama administration's 2010 healthcare overhaul law, Medicare Part D enrollees would see that coverage gap reduced. A series of subsidies for both brand-name and generic drugs would be gradually incorporated into the program until 2020, a partnership that would benefit drug companies since they would secure an enormous contract with the federal government.

The constitutionality of the healthcare law was recently challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court is expected to rule on the legality of the program by the end of June.

At this rate, the Center for Responsive Politics estimates PhRMA will top its 2009 total, when it spent $26.1 million lobbying in favor of the healthcare law.

Interestingly, the organization's PAC has donated more toward the reelection efforts of the healthcare law's critics. In the House, the PAC has contributed at least $11,000 more to Republican candidates, with Speaker of the House John Boehner receiving the largest donation at $5,000. Although the PAC has allocated more funds toward Democrats in the Senate, its largest single contribution ($4,000) went to Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah.

A similar pattern can be seen in the contribution records of of Merck & Co., which spent the second-highest amount on lobbying this year at $4.5 million. However, in the 2011-2012 election cycle the company has donated slightly more to Republican candidates than to Democrats.

In total, the pharmaceutical industry has contributed more than $6 million toward congressional Republican re-election efforts during the 2011-2012 cycle, compared with $4.6 million to Democrats.

Electric Utilities Rally Against EPA Greenhouse Gas Regulations

As the Environmental Protection Agency comes closer to enforcing new greenhouse gas emission rules for power plants and oil refineries, electric utiltiies companies have spent more than $43.3 million on lobbying costs. Southern Company accounted for nearly 10 percent of the entire industry's lobbying expenses, spending $4 million between January and March of 2012.

The company has contributed almost three times more to Republicans than Democrats during the 2011-2012 election cycle -- $282,847 compared to $106,000, with almost all of those donations going toward incumbent candidates. Although Southern Company's top five recipients include two Democrats -- Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama and Rep. John Barrow of Georgia -- both of them voted in favor of a bill amending the Clean Air Act to prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions in order to combat climate change.

The five utilities companies that spent the most on lobbying, including Southern Company, have all contributed more to Republicans rather than Democrats.

The EPA is scheduled to release its final standards for power plants and refineries in May 2012 and November 2012, respectively.

Farm Bill Leads to Huge Jump in Agricultural Lobbying

Although, as an industry, Big Agriculture has not spent as much on lobbying as several other sectors, spending by the American Farm Bureau has jumped significantly. The trade group spent $6 million in the first three months of 2012 on lobbying costs, more than in the entirety of 2011, launching it into fourth position on the Center for Responsive Politics' list of top lobbying clients so far this year.

The jump is connected to Congress' consideration of the 2012 Farm Bill, a sprawling and comprehensive omnibus bill passed every five years that sets government subsidies for the agricultural and food industry. A version of the legislation recently passed by the Senate Agricultural Committee would reduce spending by almost $25 billion, largely through subsidy cuts that some argue will be detrimental to farmers, particularly in the South where crops have higher input costs.

The wide-ranging agricultural services industry, which includes prominent companies such as Monsanto Co. -- the second highest spender at $1.4 million -- and CropLife America, also has a pattern of investing more in Republicans rather than Democrats. In the 2011-2012 cycle, the industry has donated about $2.5 million to Republican congressional candidates, compared to $1.3 million to Democrats.