New York Times: Still the Best Congress Money Can Buy

Written by admin on November 29th, 2010

The New York Times discusses money in politics.

New York Times

The story of recent corporate political donations — which we may never learn in its entirety — is just beginning to be told. Bloomberg News reported after Election Day that the United States Chamber of Commerce’s anti-Democratic war chest included a mind-boggling $86 million contribution from the insurance lobby to fight the health care bill. The Times has identified other big chamber donors as Prudential Financial, Goldman Sachs and Chevron. These are hardly the small businesses that the chamber’s G.O.P. allies claim to be championing.

Since the election, the Obama White House has sent signals that it will make nice to these interests. While the president returns to photo ops at factories, Timothy Geithner has already met with the chamber’s board out of camera range. In a reportorial coup before Election Day, the investigative news organization ProPublica wrote of the similarly behind-closed-doors activities of the New Democrat Coalition — “a group of 69 lawmakers whose close relationship with several hundred Washington lobbyists” makes them “one of the most successful political money machines” since DeLay’s K Street Project collapsed in 2007. During the Congressional battle over financial-services reform last May, coalition members repaired to a retreat on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to frolic with lobbyists dedicated to weakening the legislation.

Such is the ethos in his own party that Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, complained this month that he “couldn’t even get a vote” for his proposal for a one-time windfall profits tax on Wall Street bonuses. Republicans “obviously weren’t going to vote for it,” he told Real Clear Politics, but Democrats also demurred, “saying that any vote like that was going to screw up fund-raising.”

Roughly two-thirds of the New Democrat Coalition’s House contingent won re-election on Nov. 2. Now they’ll have more Republican allies in both houses of Congress. Tea Party populists — already being betrayed by one Senate leader, Jon Kyl, on the supposed pledge against earmarks — may soon be as disillusioned as those Democrats who had hoped Barack Obama’s economic team wouldn’t look like Wall Street.

For all the McConnell-Boehner rhetorical pandering to Tea Partiers, the health care law will not be repealed by Congress — and certainly not any provisions that benefit the G.O.P. establishment’s friends in the health care industry. Over at FreedomWorks, Dick Armey’s Tea-Party-organizing group, there’s much belligerent talk of retribution against corporations seen as too friendly to Obama policies — most notably General Electric. It’s all hot air: G.E.’s political action committees gave a total of $1.6 million to politicians in both parties in 2010, and one of its former high-powered lobbyists, Dan Coats, is the newly elected Republican senator from Indiana and a probable member of the Senate Finance Committee.

America needs a rally — or, better still, a leader or two or three — to restore not just honor or sanity to its citizens but governance that’s not auctioned off to the highest bidder.

 

USA Today: Body scanner makers doubled lobbying cash over 5 years

Written by admin on November 24th, 2010

The USA Today reports on the lobbying efforts of the firms who make the body scanners.

USA Today

L-3 Communications, which has sold $39.7 million worth of the machines to the federal government, spent $4.3 million trying to influence Congress and federal agencies during the first nine months of this year, up from $2.1 million in 2005, lobbying data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show. Its lobbyists include Linda Daschle, a former Federal Aviation Administration official.

Rapiscan Systems, meanwhile, has spent $271,500 on lobbying so far this year, compared with $80,000 five years earlier. It has faced criticism for hiring Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security secretary, last year. Chertoff has been a prominent proponent of using scanners to foil terrorism. The government has spent $41.2 million with Rapiscan.

“The revolving door provides corporations like these with a short cut to lawmakers” and other decision-makers, said Sheila Krumholz, of the Center for Responsive Politics.

 

New York Times: What the Secret Donors Want

Written by admin on November 24th, 2010

The New York Times opines on the motives and aspirations of the secret donors to the election campaigns this year.

New York Times

This year, the chamber raised nearly $33 million in secret donations for political ads in the midterm elections, almost all of which was used to elect Republicans who have vowed to repeal the health care law. Did some of that money come, once again, from health insurance companies that were unwilling to attach their names to their contributions? It’s a logical assumption, but only the donors and the chamber know for sure.

And that’s the problem with secret political donations, which played such a large role in the elections earlier this month. They cast a shadow of doubt and distrust over a huge field, raising questions about who is covertly pushing which bill and supporting which candidate, and for which self-serving purposes. Lobbying and political contributions can be perfectly legitimate practices, but only when the public can see who is pulling the strings.

Secret donors spent at least $138 million on the midterm elections, according to the latest figures, and 80 percent of that secret money supported Republican candidates. What will those donors get for their money, and who will they get it from?

Certainly the chamber, which lobbies Congress hard on behalf of big business, will make its demands known — health care repeal, no tax increases, reduced regulation and oversight. The other groups, including Crossroads GPS, founded by Karl Rove, may be more subtle in pressing the interests of their backers — conversations at golf courses, at steakhouses, at cocktail parties; the usual Washington transactions, but cocooned in greater secrecy thanks to an inert Federal Election Commission and a determined Supreme Court.

 

Los Angeles Times: Democrats unhappy with Obama’s tactics plot change

Written by admin on November 19th, 2010

The Los Angeles Times reports on the change in tactics coming from the Democrats.

LA Times

In another sign of Democratic unrest, a dozen prominent Democrats — including longtime Bill Clinton advisor Harold Ickes, labor leader Andy Stern and representatives of influential interest groups — will meet Monday to discuss whether to form a new operation to combat the array of outside groups launched this year by Karl Rove and other Republican strategists, according to multiple participants.

Such a move by Democrats comes despite Obama’s longstanding opposition to political spending by outside groups — particularly those that refuse to disclose their donors — and underscores the deep dissatisfaction with the White House‘s strategy on several fronts.

The White House declined to comment.

 

Bloomberg: Insurers Gave U.S. Chamber $86 Million Used to Oppose Obama’s Health Law

Written by admin on November 17th, 2010

Bloomberg reports on the identity of at least one major donor group to the US Chamber of Commerce’s campaigns.

Bloomberg

Health insurers last year gave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce $86.2 million that was used to oppose the health-care overhaul law, according to tax records and people familiar with the donation.

The insurance lobby, whose members include Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Cigna Corp. of Philadelphia, gave the money to the Chamber in 2009 as Democrats increased criticism of the industry, according to a person who requested anonymity because laws don’t require identifying funding sources. The Chamber got the money from the America’s Health Insurance Plans as the industry urged Congress to drop a plan to create a competing government-run insurance plan.

Clearly the secrecy was important to industry,” Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, said in an interview. The group tracks money in politics and isn’t affiliated with a political party. “Eighty-six million dollars is an astonishing sum,” she said.

The spending on the Chamber exceeded the insurer group’s entire budget from a year earlier and accounted for 40 percent of the Chamber’s $214.6 million in 2009 expenditures.

 

Los Angeles Times: Financial reform law offers look at lobbyists’ efforts to shape it

Written by admin on November 15th, 2010

The Los Angeles Times reports on the intense lobbying underway to undermine any significant regulation in the financial industry despite the events which lead to the financial crisis of 2008.

Los Angeles Times

Having failed to block financial reform, Wall Street is now focused on the next best thing: ensuring that the law is loosely interpreted and weakly enforced.

Lobbyists for banks, hedge funds and other firms have logged hundreds of meetings with federal regulators since the reform bill was signed into law July 21. The lobbyists are often pushing for exemptions to the bill’s key provisions, including measures that would limit risky Wall Street trading and shield consumers from excessive bank fees, records and interviews show.

In an Aug. 18 meeting with Federal Reserve officials, for instance, Citigroup lobbyists warned that new rules restricting trading by hedge funds “may have a significant impact on the competitiveness of U.S. firms,” according to a summary released by the Fed.

The incessant appeals — there were 18 separate meetings between lobbyists and government officials Sept. 28 alone — have become a sore spot with some regulators.

“I want to be professional and polite and courteous, and I’ll let them say their peace,” said Bart Chilton, a member of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. “But I don’t think it’s a very valuable use of their time or mine, because that is not the direction we were instructed to go by Congress.”

The meetings would normally be cloaked in secrecy. But in keeping with the spirit of financial reform, the Fed, the CFTC and two other agencies have begun disclosing their contacts with lobbyists on the new reform law, providing a rare glimpse behind the curtain.

The names listed most frequently in the logs are Goldman Sachs, with 21 meetings with regulators, and JPMorgan Chase, with 23. Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive of JPMorgan, was among those in attendance when a bank contingent met Oct. 8 with Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairwoman Sheila Bair, records show.

In all, regulators have had at least 510 meetings with lobbyists representing 325 organizations since July, according to a Times analysis of meeting logs. That’s when the Fed, the SEC, the FDIC and the CFTC first began keeping the logs on their websites, in the spirit of transparency that was a driving factor for the financial reform law.

 

New York Times: A Journey From Lawmaker to Lobbyist and Back

Written by admin on November 14th, 2010

The New York Times reports on an unusual revolving door story; Senator to lobbyist and back to Senator.  Meet Dan Coats.

New York Times

Dan Coats, then a former senator and ambassador to Germany, served as co-chairman of a team of lobbyists in 2007 who worked behind the scenes to successfully block Senate legislation that would have terminated a tax loophole worth hundreds of millions of dollars in additional cash flow to Cooper Industries.

Now Mr. Coats, a Republican from Indiana, is about to make a striking transition. He is spinning the revolving door backward.

As part of the Republican wave in this year’s midterm elections, Mr. Coats will join the Senate again and is seeking a coveted spot on the Finance Committee, the same panel that tried to shut the tax loophole and that the Obama administration has pushed to again consider such a move.

There is no rule that would keep Mr. Coats from voting on issues that he handled as a lobbyist, and he does not intend to recuse himself when former clients are affected by his votes. But he has said he will not let prior connections influence him.

Mr. Coats is hardly the only former lobbyist to join Congress. The list includes Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, and Representative Dan Lungren, Republican of California. Representative Doris Matsui of California, a Democrat, was also a lobbyist with a particularly extensive client list.

But few rival Mr. Coats, whose blue-chip list of 36 clients included corporate titans like General Electric and Google. These companies routinely have major legislative issues pending in Congress — and in the Senate Finance Committee — that Mr. Coats will now be asked to vote on, often with great consequences to their bottom line.

 

Salt Lake Tribune: Revolving door? Lee picks top lobbyist to lead his staff

Written by admin on November 12th, 2010

The Salt Lake Tribune weighs in on the revolving door in Utah’s new Senator Mike Lee’s office.

Salt Lake Tribune

Senator-elect Mike Lee has tapped one of Utah’s most prominent lobbyists to lead his Washington staff and coordinate his transition from candidate to senator.

Spencer Stokes doesn’t officially become a Senate staffer until Jan. 5, but he plans to bounce between Utah and Washington in the coming weeks as he tries to hire staff, set up the Senate office and ramp down his lobbying activities.

Lee said they first got to know each other when he was working as former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.’s legal counsel and Stokes was a constant presence on Capitol Hill.

The two also briefly collaborated for 1-800-Contacts, with Stokes acting as the company’s lobbyist and Lee as its attorney. They have also both worked for EnergySolutions and Stokes is still registered to lobby for the nuclear services company, which operates a radioactive waste landfill in Utah.

Stokes is currently registered to lobby for 18 organizations in the state, including the Utah League of Credit Unions; Management & Training Corp., a private prison company; and a number of energy interests, including utilities and the Utah Association of Energy Users.

On the federal level, Stokes has primarily lobbied for Weber County, Weber State University and a small defense contractor, Engineering and Software Systems Solutions, for which he focused on federal funding and earmarks.

Lee made a campaign promise to forgo any earmarks for his first year in office and has been highly critical of the practice in which lawmakers funnel federal money to pet projects back home.

Craig Holman, of the Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group Public Citizen, has been a longtime critic of lobbyists joining the government and government officials becoming lobbyists, a practice referred to as the “revolving door.”

This is one of the primary tools for what I consider undue influence peddling on Capitol Hill and throughout Washington,” Holman said. “In essence, it enables special interests that were represented by a former lobbyist to essentially capture governments.”

Despite such criticisms, it’s common for members of Congress to tap someone with lobbying experience to lead their offices.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, recently named Michael Kennedy as his new chief of staff. Kennedy was a Washington lobbyist before leading Utah State University’s government relations’ efforts. Last year, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, hired a chief of staff who was a registered lobbyist for AT&T.

And on the flip side, outgoing chiefs of staff often become lobbyists. Hatch’s departing chief of staff, Jace Johnson, is leaving to become a lobbyist for Adobe. Matheson’s longtime top aide, Stacey Alexander, joined a small lobbying firm with clients such as Time Warner and Goldman Sachs.

 

Fox News: Court: No campaign finance limits for small groups

Written by admin on November 12th, 2010

Fox News reports on the federal appellate court ruling that Colorado’s campaign finance disclosure laws are an unconstitutional abridgment of free speech.

This ruling from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal is at odds with a previous ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals setting up for a possible Supreme Court case.

Fox News

At issue in the state case is a voter-approved amendment that requires groups of two or more people who spend more than $200 to report their spending. The appellate court ruled that the government cannot justify imposing campaign limits on such small groups, saying the burden outweighs the government’s interest in ensuring fair elections.

The judges cited the amendment’s preamble that the reporting requirement is meant to limit large campaign contributions that unfairly influence elections.

“It is unlikely that the Colorado voters who approved the disclosure requirements … were thinking of the No Annexation committee,” the panel wrote in their opinion.

The case stemmed from a complaint filed against a group of six homeowners who fought a proposal to have their subdivision annexed by the city of Parker, 20 miles south of Denver. The group raised and spent less than $1,000, prompting annexation supporters to allege a violation of Amendment 27.

Although the 10th Circuit panel declined to establish a “bright line” for determining the monetary limit that would require issues groups to file campaign reports, Simpson said there was “no distinction between a little group and a large group spending money.”

 

The Hill: Lobbyists jockey for favored status with top House Republicans

Written by admin on November 10th, 2010

The Hill reports on K Street firms’  scramble to ‘readjust their lobbying rosters’ to take advantage of relationships with the incoming Republican House majority.

The Hill

“Well, I’ve never been shy about the fact that I worked for the House Republican leadership,” said Lehman, a partner at Holland & Knight who formerly worked as an aide for several GOP leaders, including ex-Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.).

“And clearly this is no time to be shy about that fact. I’ve been through the good times and the bad times as a House Republican — so yes, I’m telling people about my relationships.”

Lehman is one of many GOP lobbyists, most of them former Republican leadership aides, who stand to benefit from their party’s takeover of the House.

After two years of Democratic dominance in Washington, companies and trade associations are now likely to readjust their lobbying rosters to reflect the new GOP-controlled House.

“Whoever hires lobbyists, they are taking an inventory of who they have now and what working relationships they have with people on the Hill. They are figuring out what their needs are post-election,” said one Republican lobbyist.

Aside from Lehman, former leadership aides who could see their stock rise include Susan Hirschmann of Williams & Jensen, Dan Meyer of the Duberstein Group, John Feehery with Quinn Gillespie & Associates, Sam Geduldig at Clark, Lytle & Geduldig, Mark Isakowitz of Fierce, Isakowitz and Blalock and Drew Maloney of Ogilvy Government Relations.