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Attacking Lobbyist Corruption at its Core: Campaign Money

July 31, 2014

Attacking Lobbyist Corruption at its Core: Campaign Money

Bennet Legislation Would Set Limits on Campaign Fundraising by Lobbyists

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Legislation introduced today by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) would dramatically reduce the ability of lobbyists to curry favor with lawmakers through excessive campaign contributions, said Public Citizen, which is endorsing the measure. The “Lobbying and Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2014” addresses one of the key sources of lobbyist corruption: campaign money.

“No single legislative measure could do more to lessen the public’s skepticism of Capitol Hill than to break the potentially corrupting nexus between lobbyists, money and lawmakers,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “This legislation would achieve precisely that.”

Bennet’s legislative proposal is short and simple but sweeping in impact. It recognizes the right of lobbyists to make campaign contributions in the same amount as any other individual, but would count any contributions collected, solicited and bundled from others by a lobbyist against that lobbyist’s own individual contribution limit – which today is $2,600 per candidate per election. The measure also lowers the threshold that triggers lobby registration and prohibits members of Congress from soliciting campaign donations from lobbyists while Congress is in session.

Public Citizen has joined a coalition of eight civic organizations in endorsing the measure.

“Bundling has long been one of the most powerful tools in lobbyists’ toolkits to advance the goal of influence-peddling,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Instead of just handing over to a campaign the individual limit of $2,600, well-connected lobbyists can get 100 of their wealthy friends to chip in and then hand over $260,000 in bundled contributions. That kind of money can buy a lot of favors. This legislation would limit that purchasing ability.”

Because of their close networks of business relations within a company or an industry, lobbyists often are very effective at bundling large amounts of campaign contributions – a skill that speaks loudly among lawmakers. And unlike all other occupations, professional lobbyists are paid solely to influence government. No other private occupation can claim such a unique public sector function, Holman said. As such, courts have generally been inclined to allow special regulations and disclosure requirements for lobbyists otherwise applicable to public officials.

“The Lobbying and Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2014 is succinct, unambiguous legislation that respects the rights of lobbyists to participate in elections while reining in the very real potential for lobbyist corruption at its core,” Holman said. “The measure deserves our support.”

Read the coalition letter endorsing the measure.

View a report by the American Bar Association Task Force on Federal Lobbying Laws for an explanation on the constitutionality of restricting lobbyists’ ability to raise campaign money.