ORLANDO — SeaWorld's spending on federal lobbying has surged in the face of bad publicity and calls for tougher restrictions on marine parks and aquariums.
The Orlando-based company spent nearly a half-million dollars lobbying the federal government from January through June, records show, up 68 percent over the same period last year. Meanwhile, SeaWorld has also started aggressively lobbying at the state level in California, where lawmakers briefly considered a bill that would have banned killer whale shows and breeding. The company has spent $140,000 in lobbying in California so far this year.
SeaWorld's lobbying costs spiked in 2010 and 2011 after an orca named Tilikum killed a trainer, then tapered off. But spending has increased since the release of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which argued against captivity of killer whales and suggested stress could have caused Tilikum to attack. SeaWorld's attendance has declined and protests have mounted since the documentary's release.
"I would think that, in this case, their increased political spending and lobbying are reactionary to the external environment," said Sarah Bryner, research director with the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. "You see similar things happen all the time. Whenever there's a high-profile, negative event, companies will respond by upping their political spending."
The company would not answer specific questions about its political spending, but released a statement saying "recent increases in funding reflect our commitment to sharing the facts about SeaWorld."
The Orlando Sentinel reports SeaWorld Entertainment's lobbyists have weighed in on issues including amusement park safety, visas, the Animal Welfare Act and the Endangered Species Act.