Japanese conglomerate SoftBank is boosting its lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. to work on issues that align with its portfolio investments, Bloomberg reported on Thursday (March 12).
The 36th biggest company in the world, SoftBank now ranks among the top 4 percent of the roughly 10,000 groups that engage in lobbying, the Center for Responsive Politics told the news outlet. SoftBank spent $1.94 million on lobbying in 2019. In 2018, the company spent just $225,000, according to Open Secrets. From 2014 to 2017, the firm spent almost nothing to lobby Washington.
A four-person team was registered to lobby in July, headed by Brian Conklin, SoftBank’s vice president of government affairs. In 2018, the company hired Ford lobbyist Ziad Ojakli. SoftBank now has 13 people on its government affairs team who advocate for SoftBank itself as well as for the numerous startups it backs, including autonomous vehicle and commercial spacecraft firms.
Lobbying efforts helped close the controversial $26 billion sale of Sprint — owned by SoftBank — to T-Mobile. After state lawsuits and regulatory problems, the deal was approved in 2019 by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department.
“We helped make the case to the government that it was going to be incredible for the U.S. in terms of 5G,” Ojakli told Bloomberg. “The spadework was what allowed us to succeed ultimately in court.”
The effort took a lot of expenditure on Capitol Hill. Aside from SoftBank’s spend, T-Mobile put out an additional $8.92 million and Sprint spent $3.49 million.
Ojakli said most of SoftBank’s lobbying budget is spent on advocating for the startups it has invested in.
“Really, most of the time in our lobbying work, we have to deal with the smaller ones,” he said.
Following the WeWork debacle, Uber’s lack of profitability and other investment missteps, SoftBank’s quarterly profit dropped 99 percent in February to ¥2.59 billion due to steep Vision Fund losses.
Overall, SoftBank reported a profit of about $501 million for the quarter, missing analysts’ expectations. Its profit was less than one-tenth of last year’s earnings.