Los Angeles Times: Financial arms race underway in Washington

Written by admin on December 12th, 2010

The unlimited undisclosed donor financial arms race for the 2012 Presidential election cycle is dominating Washington.

Los Angeles Times

Lawmakers say they fear the unrestricted independent spending is creating a Congress even more indebted to special interests, prone to gridlock and unlikely to find compromise. In a sign of the new order, a newly elected Republican senator, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, paid a personal visit last week to U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue to thank him for the chamber’s unsolicited support of his candidacy.

At the National Republican Congressional Committee, Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas is laying plans to ramp up fundraising for 2012 by setting benchmarks for all members of the GOP majority. Plans include giving every member a minimum fundraising threshold, with new, higher amounts set for incoming party chairmen.

The Supreme Court widened opportunities for this spending in January, ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that corporations and unions could directly fund independent election ads. Other court and regulatory decisions made it easier for tax-exempt groups to air ads closer to election day paid for with unlimited and often anonymous donations.

Of the $4 billion spent overall, about $300 million came from nonparty independent groups, whose participation soared this year. Republicans benefited from the new legal environment more than Democrats, with conservative outside groups outspending liberal groups 2 to 1, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Among the major outside spenders were the Crossroads Groups, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Now the talk among Democratic lawmakers and their campaign advisors is how to create “our own Crossroads,” a reference to two tax-exempt groups established in part by GOP strategist Karl Rove.

“I can sympathize with them, but I have no sympathy for them,” said Carl Forti, political director for American Crossroads, a “super PAC” that discloses its donors, and Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit social welfare organization that accepts anonymous contributions.

Crossroads raised more than $70 million in 2010, but campaign finance lawyer Michael E. Toner, who advised several Republican presidential campaigns, anticipates that the two groups will spend more than $200 million in the next campaign cycle.

That means for those facing reelection in 2012, raising campaign money is dominating the conversation and the calendar like never before.

Last week, lobbyists held multiple fundraisers every day and were swamped with invitations to elaborate and expensive gatherings in coming weeks.

“Not even Thanksgiving or Christmas after an election is off-limits anymore,” lamented David DiMartino, a Washington political consultant. “For the small world of people who write checks to political campaigns, there no longer is an off-season. There is no lull. This is constant.”

 

Politico: Lobbyist offered key House staff post

Written by admin on December 11th, 2010

Politico reports on rumors that a key post on the House Energy and Commerce Committee will be filled by a long term industry lobbyist.

Politico

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has picked a prominent conservative columnist, industry lobbyist and former White House aide to serve as staff director of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to sources on and off Capitol Hill.

Gary Andres has been offered the coveted staff job atop one of the most powerful panels in Congress and is poised to play a critical behind-the-scenes role in efforts to repeal the health care law and pursue the Obama administration’s environment and energy policies.

Andres is currently vice chairman of research at the Washington lobbying shop of Dutko Worldwide. He is also a regular contributor to The Weekly Standard and has penned recent columns on repealing the health care law and how the new House GOP majority won’t make much of a difference in Obama’s reelection chances.

Upton aides declined comment on the hiring, saying only that there were lots of rumors floating around Washington about the job. The Michigan Republican said Thursday that he planned to start announcing his decisions soon on staffing, subcommittee chairmen and other jurisdiction issues.

 

Washington Post: Rhetoric aside, many incoming Republicans hiring lobbyists

Written by admin on December 9th, 2010

The Washington Post reports on how candidates who ran against  “the side of special interests and lobbyists.” changed their minds immediately on arrival in Washington.

Washington Post

Many incoming GOP lawmakers have hired registered lobbyists as senior aides. Several of the candidates won with strong support from the anti-establishment tea party movement.

These cases illustrate the endurance of Washington’s traditional power structure, even in the wake of an election dominated by insurgent rhetoric. In addition to hiring lobbyists, many newly elected House Republicans have begun holding big-dollar fundraisers in Washington to pay off debts and begin preparing for 2012.

In addition to Johnson, Sen.-elect Mike Lee (Utah) has announced that energy lobbyist Spencer Stokes will be his chief of staff. Tea party favorite Rand Paul (Ky.) has hired anti-union lobbyist Douglas Stafford as his top senatorial aide.

In the House, Rep.-elect Charlie Bass (N.H.) has named food industry lobbyist John W. Billings as his chief of staff. Billings was a senior aide to Bass during an earlier stint on Capitol Hill.

Sen.-elect Chip Cravaack (Minn.) has hired former U.S. senator and former lobbyist Rod Grams as his interim chief of staff, though aides have said the posting is probably not permanent. Grams’s lobbying clients from 2002 to 2006 included 3M, Norfolk Southern and the Financial Services Roundtable, records show.

Other incoming GOP lawmakers who have recruited staff from K Street include Robert Dold (Ill.), Steve Pearce (N.M.) and Jeff Denham (Calif.). John Goodwin of the National Rifle Association, one of Washington’s most powerful lobbying groups, has signed on as chief of staff for Rep.-elect Raul Labrador (Idaho).

Voters in Indiana chose a former lobbyist, Dan Coats, to represent them for a second time in the Senate. But Coats has hired a non-lobbyist as his chief of staff.

 

Campaign Legal Center: The Embattled Joe Miller

Written by admin on December 8th, 2010

The Campaign Legal Center weighs in on the campaign spending in Alaska’s high profile senatorial race between Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller.

Open Secrets

In a scathing Washington Times editorial, Joe Miller, winner of the Republican U.S Senate primary in Alaska, bemoans how Sen. Lisa Murkowski (I-Alaska) used a super PAC called Alaskans Standing Together to help untimately propel her to an unlikely victory as a write-in candidate.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Alaskans Standing Together raised just shy of $1 million, and its traditional political action committee spent nearly $600,000. But the super PAC sponsored by the same organization spent $1.26 million in independent expenditures on advertisements for Murkowski. Much of that $1.26 million came directly from corporations — donations that would have been illegal prior to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling early this year.

Miller, whose platform included decreasing federal spending and banning earmarks, claims the big corporations are the ones that thrive on the pet project money and worked to spend more than a million dollars to aid in his defeat. Miller said the group ran erroneous ads, transported people to the polls in busses emblazoned with their logo and taught native Alaskans how to write in Murkowski on a general election ballot.

Murkowski’s campaign committee raised more than $4 million in the 2010 election cycle, although her own political action committee hardly reached the $250,000 mark. Miller, who had the support of Tea Party groups and ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, raised nearly $2 million, and attracted $1.6 million of his own in outside spending support, federal records show.

Murkowski may have had flooded the airwaves with advertisements, but the Tea Party Express created a counterattack in support of Miller. His campaign even aired a hilarious campaign-inspired parody of the extremely popular Old Spice commercials.

 

Washington Post: For food-safety overhaul, lobbyists rushed to the table

Written by admin on December 7th, 2010

The Washington Post breaks down the spending by lobbyists on the recent food safety bill.

Washington Post

At least 221 organizations hired 77 lobbying shops to quibble over details in the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act since it was introduced by sponsor Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) at the beginning of last year. At times, industry organizations and corporate heavyweights with a stake in the bill — such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Restaurant Association, the Natural Products Association, Abbott Laboratories and Anheuser-Busch — retained multiple District firms to represent their interests. Many also deployed their own government relations staff to the Hill, a Capital Business analysis of Senate lobbying records shows.

For Policy Directions Inc., which specializes on food industry issues, the comprehensive food law update was a perfect storm. Nearly every member of the shop once worked in the FDA, USDA or agriculture-related organizations, making it an obvious choice for the nine clients that hired it for food safety act work. The impending overhaul prompted Indiana-based Rose Acre Farms to hire a federal lobbying firm for the first time in four years. Since the family-run egg producer retained Policy Directions in January, it has paid the firm $60,000 for its work on the food safety act and other unspecified general agricultural issues.

 

Washington Post: Incoming GOP freshmen rapidly embracing big-money fundraisers

Written by admin on December 6th, 2010

The Washington Post reports on how rapidly the incoming legislators  have embraced lobbyists and their fundraising capabilities.  Even the ones who ran against the practices.

Washington Post

After winning election with an anti-Washington battle cry, Canseco and other incoming Republican freshmen have rapidly embraced the capital’s culture of big-money fundraisers, according to new campaign-finance reports and other records.

Dozens of freshmen lawmakers have held receptions at Capitol Hill bistros and corporate townhouses in recent weeks, taking money from K Streetlobbyists and other powerbrokers within days of their victories. Newly elected House members have raised at least $2 million since the election, according to preliminary Federal Election Commission records filed last week, and many more contributions have yet to be tallied.

The aggressive fundraising efforts underscore the financial pressures facing new members of Congress even before they take their seats. The contributions also represent a symbolic challenge for the Republican class of 2010, many of whom gained office by running against the ways of official Washington and monied interests.

“The lobbyists are all saying, ‘Welcome to Washington; let me help pay off your debt,'” said Nancy Watzman, who tracks political fundraisers for the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group. “It’s particularly interesting when so many of this year’s freshmen were running against Washington. But as soon as they get elected, they come to Washington and put out their hand.”

 

Washington Post: Judge fights in Iowa, Illinois signal new era for retention elections

Written by admin on December 5th, 2010

The Washington Post reports on how the flood of campaign cash is affecting more than just the legislative races.

Is the politicizing of judicial races in our best interests?

Washington Post

What was unusual about the Illinois race is that it was uncontested. Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride was on the ballot alone, part of a regular election asking voters whether they want to keep him. These “retention elections” are held every decade for state Supreme Court justices in Illinois.

Kilbride faced opposition from a pro-business group, the Illinois Civil Justice League, that urged voters to oust him over of a string of civil decisions it found objectionable. But Kilbride responded, mobilizing the political and monetary might of Illinois Democrats – including unions, trial lawyers and the party itself – to withstand the group’s challenge.

After raising more than $2 million, Kilbride kept his job with 66 percent of the vote, meeting the 60 percent threshold required by Illinois law to stay in office. But he complained bitterly about being forced to turn into a glad-handing politician, something he considers inappropriate for a judge.

Even if Illinois provided the most expensive retention election this year, it certainly wasn’t the most controversial – or consequential. That occurred in Iowa, where voters took the nationally unprecedented step of ousting three of seven Supreme Court justices after a well-funded opposition group, Iowa for Freedom, attacked the justices over their ruling last year to give constitutional protection to same-sex marriage in the state.

Observers on both sides of the Iowa election agree that its result will reverberate in courts far beyond Des Moines. “The impact on sitting judges is tremendous,” says Alexander Bryner, the former chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court. “Once we have a result that gets rid of sitting judges because they decided a politically unpopular issue, the message sent to all judges on the bench is, ‘Be careful.’ “

Whether that is a good thing, of course, is a point of debate. Supporters of an independent judiciary say that judges must not become beholden to majority will, but many others believe that courts – particularly in states that do not hold head-to-head elections – have accumulated more power in recent years than initially intended

 

Washington Post: 72 super PACs spent $83.7 million on election, financial disclosure reports show

Written by admin on December 4th, 2010

The Washington Post reports on the massive spending by SuperPACs in the midterm elections.

Washington Post

The newly created independent political groups known as super PACs, which raised and spent millions of dollars on last month’s elections, drew much of their funding from private-equity partners and others in the financial industry, according to new financial disclosure reports.

The 72 super PACs, all formed this year, together spent $83.7 million on the election. The figures provide the best indication yet of the impact of recent Supreme Court decisions that opened the door for wealthy individuals and corporations to give unlimited contributions.

The financial disclosure reports also underscore the extent to which the flow of corporate money will be tied to political goals. Private-equity partners and hedge fund managers, for example, have a substantial stake in several issues before Congress, primarily the taxes they pay on their earnings.

Super PACs provide a means for the super wealthy to have even more influence and an even greater voice in the political process,” said Meredith McGehee, a lobbyist for the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for tighter regulation of money in politics.

The Supreme Court’s ruling this year in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission found that corporations, unions and nonprofit groups could spend unlimited money on advertising directly attacking or supporting candidates. In a separate decision, a federal court in the District removed limits on contributions to those groups.

To take advantage of the loosened regulations, political activists created super PACs, which are allowed to accept any kind of contribution as long as they disclose their donors and do not coordinate with candidates.

Super PACs represent only one portion of the spending spurred by the court’s decision. Nonprofit groups that are not required to disclose their donors also spent heavily on the election.

 

Bloomberg: Dow’s Hometown Congressman Camp Will Help Set Tax, Trade Agenda

Written by admin on December 4th, 2010

Bloomberg News removed a story they published on incoming Congressman Dave Camp and his relationship to Dow Chemical.

The Google cached version is here.

Dec. 2 (Bloomberg) — Dow Chemical Co. will have a well- placed ally in January when Republican Dave Camp takes the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, which writes U.S. tax and trade laws.

No single entity in the district, however, is as prominent as Dow Chemical. The company’s executives and its political action committee were the top corporate donors to Camp’s 2010 campaign, giving more than $44,000 to his campaign treasury, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Andrew Liveris, Dow’s chief executive officer, contributed $2,400 to Camp in September. Dow’s chief tax officer, William Curry, and the company’s chief financial officer, William Weideman, each donated $1,000 this year. Over Camp’s congressional career, Dow Chemical and Dow Corning executives and political committees have been the top two contributors.

That kind of relationship is a sign of increasing corporate influence in Congress, Linda Beale, a tax law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, said without singling out Camp or Dow.

“The more that congressmen are indebted to big corporations for their positions, then the more likely they are to look favorably on the legislation the corporations are favoring,” Beale said.

Climate Bill

Camp, who said he has good working relations with the company, often votes in line with Dow’s interests, though he and the company sometimes diverge. Camp cited Dow Chemical’s support of a cap-and-trade climate bill that the congressman called a “national energy tax” that would mean “all pain and no gain.”

Dow Chemical also is Camp’s single largest stock holding, according to his most recent financial disclosure report, filed in June. As of Dec. 31, 2009, he owned between $250,000 and $500,000 of Dow stock.

Since the beginning of this year, the company’s stock has increased 17 percent, closing at $32.42 yesterday.

According to the June filing, Camp also held between $50,000 and $100,000 in each of these companies’ shares: Abbott Laboratories, Apple Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Procter & Gamble Co.

 

USA Today: Supreme Court to hear Ariz. campaign finance case

Written by admin on November 30th, 2010

The Supreme Court wades back into campaign finance.

USA Today

The case to be heard in early 2011 would be the first campaign-finance case since the justices’ divisive ruling last January in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. By a 5-4 vote, the court struck down federal limits on corporations’ independent spending in political races as an infringement on First Amendment speech rights.

The new dispute pits similar speech rights in elections against a state’s interest in limiting the potentially corruptive effect of campaign money. It specifically tests the constitutionality of a state “trigger matching funds” provision that tries to equalize resources among candidates by providing extra public subsidies to candidates who face wealthy, privately financed rivals.

Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a non-partisan group that supports campaign-finance regulation, said Monday that many states abandoned such trigger fund programs after the high court in 2008 struck down a federal regulation that favored candidates who faced millionaires who financed their own campaigns.

Wertheimer said resolution of the case could have limited national repercussions if the justices focus on the trigger-funds provision. Yet he and other election law analysts, including professor Rick Hasen of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the ultimate decision could be more significant if the majority more broadly undermines public financing laws adopted nationwide to reduce the threat of corruption in races.

The Arizona law, which was adopted by ballot initiative in 1998 and took effect in 2000, covers candidates for state office who agree to relinquish their right to raise unlimited private money and instead collect certain qualifying contributions to be matched by public financing.