In 2009, spending on US federal lobbying by the pharmaceutical and health products industry reached “the greatest amount ever spent on lobbying efforts by a single industry for one year,” says a new survey.

The industry spent $267.8 million on federal lobbying during the year, which is also more than any other business, industry or special interest area spent during the period, says the study, from the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).

Despite the economic downturn, 2009 proved to be “a year of riches unlike any other” for US federal lobbyists, whose clients spending’ for the year reached an all-time high of $3.47 billion, 3% up on the $3.3 billion recorded for 2008 – the previous all-time high, says the CRP. In last year’s fourth quarter, expenditures were up nearly 16% over fourth-quarter 2008, reaching a record $955.1 million.

Overall, the “health” sector – in which the Center also includes specialist areas such as health professionals and services – spent $544 million on lobbying last year, an increase of nearly 12% on 2008’s total and second only to the “general business” sector, which includes a range of industries from retail sales to manufacturing to business associations, where spending grew nearly 19% to a record $558.2 million.

The “general business” sector also employed more registered federal lobbyists last year than any other sector, at 3,513, with the health sector a close sector with 3,405, far ahead of the next group – finance/insurance/real estate with 2,654. However, each of these sectors employed marginally fewer registered lobbyists in 2009 than they did the year before, notes the CRP.

“Lobbying appears recession-proof,” comments Sheila Krumholz, the Center’s executive director. “Even when companies are scaling back other operations, many view lobbying as a critical tool in protecting their future interests, particularly when Congress is preparing to take action on issues that could seriously affect their bottom lines,” she notes.

Such issues of course include health reform, and the “months and months” of congressional health reform debates last year pushed up the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying spending by nearly 11% year-on-year, while that for health services and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) grew more than 14%. Moreover, expenditures by “miscellaneous” health industries soared more than 43% between 2008 and 2009, and the prolonged health reform debate was also partly responsible for the big increases in spending by industries and associations which are not typically associated with health care issues, says the Center.

The biggest-spending individual lobbying client last year was the US Chamber of Commerce, at $144.5 million, but the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) was in third place on $26.1 million and Pfizer was fifth with $24.6 million.