In the months before it secured a federal financing deal worth $765 million to help produce COVID-19 drugs, camera giant-turned-pharmaceutical company Eastman Kodak jump-started its dormant lobbying operation, spending unprecedented sums to influence D.C. policymakers.
Kodak’s in-house lobbying team had officially dissolved in early 2019, according to disclosure filings submitted to federal regulators. But on April 1 of this year, the company started it back up, and proceeded to plow $870,000 into its D.C. influence machine. That sum, which went towards influencing both Congress and the administration, was more than twice as much as Kodak had ever spent on lobbying in any quarterly reporting period.
The effort appears to have paid off handsomely.
Last week, President Donald Trump announced $765 million in federal financing for Kodak to produce chemical ingredients used in the production of COVID-19 treatments. Trump, who campaigned in large measure on combating Washington’s influence industry, called the agreement “one of the most important deals in the history of U.S. pharmaceutical industries.”
The announcement was an immediate boon for Kodak, which emerged from bankruptcy just seven years ago and has struggled to move beyond its past as a leading photography brand. It also had more tangible financial benefits for the company. It sent Kodak stock prices soaring—and redounded directly to the benefit of a number of executives, including chairman Jim Continenza, who just a day earlier had been granted stock options that appreciated almost immediately.
That timing drew quick scrutiny from lawmakers including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who called for a probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that an SEC investigation is underway, though the company said it wasn’t aware of any such probe and would cooperate fully.
Trump initially claimed credit for the agreement, but by Tuesday, after reports of the SEC probe, Trump was distancing himself from it. “I had nothing to do with that deal,” he said at his daily coronavirus press conference.
Kodak did not respond to inquiries about its work to secure the federal financing deal.
Details of the company’s lobbying efforts, which have not been previously reported, show how the Trump administration’s frequently ad hoc attempts to combat the coronavirus—and the large disbursements of federal money they often entail—have opened up unique financial opportunities for companies willing to shell out large sums to influence federal policy making.
The coronavirus has spawned a blitz of activity on K Street as companies, trade associations, advocacy groups, and nonprofits seek to sway federal policy or secure chunks of the trillions in government assistance handed out to minimize the impacts of the virus and the resulting economic downturn.
Federal records show that at least 640 new lobbying clients have enlisted K Street assistance since March to work on issues explicitly related to the virus or legislation responding to it. And due to lax guidelines on how lobbying activity is reported, that total almost certainly undercounts the number of new registrations.
In the second quarter of the year, Kodak’s lobbyists reported working exclusively on coronavirus-related matters. They lobbied on two pieces of COVID relief legislation in Congress, and reported contacting federal agencies regarding “COVID-19 Programs-Specialty Chemicals Manufacturing.”
Kodak’s lobbying operation wasn’t just beefed up financially, the company also tasked some new executives with outreach to federal officials, ones who hadn’t previously worked on the company’s lobbying team. In addition to Kristin Williams, the company’s vice president of public affairs, Kodak tasked chief technical officer Terry Taber, chief financial officer David Bullwinkle, and Nagraj Bokinkere, the general manager of the company’s MES and Commercial Films division, with outreach to Trump administration officials.
The four lobbyists reported contacting the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Defense Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. It was the last—rebranded last year as the International Development Finance Corporation—that provided last week’s massive financing deal.