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A view of new pencils and an apple on a desk at the Redu project presented by Bing on October 9, 2010 in New York City. Education groups are among the biggest lobbyists working to avoid the fiscal cliff at the end of the year. - 

Lots of groups want to have a say on how Congress can avoid the looming cliff of spending cuts and tax hikes. But who’s the most vocal? Maybe you’re thinking defense contractors are the most active lobbyists in the fiscal cliff debate?

Nope. It’s education groups. That comes as a surprise to even the most seasoned campaign finance types.

Sheila Krumholz heads the Center for Responsive Politics. “We don’t think of education as being a heavy hitter among lobbying organizations," she says.  So it’s surprising in that regard.”

Krumholz says 421 organizations hired fiscal cliff lobbyists this year. Most of them  – 91 -- were education groups. And they’ve spent more than $67 million so far.

They’ve got a lot at stake -- like federally-funded research programs. Terry Hartle is chief lobbyist at the American Council on Education. It represents about 2,000 colleges and universities. 

“Scientific research funding, if we fall off the fiscal cliff, will be cut about eight percent across the board," he says.

 Hartle is also worried about education tax breaks that are due to expire at the end of the year.