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Lobbyists Contributed $103 Million to Lawmakers Since 1998

May 22, 2006

Lobbyists Contributed $103 Million to Lawmakers Since 1998

Public Citizen Report Reveals Names and Numbers Behind Biggest Lobbyist Contributors

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Lobbyists and their political action committees (PACs) have contributed at least $103.1 million to members of Congress since 1998, according to a new report released today by Public Citizen. This is the first comprehensive effort to match names of lobbyists with Federal Election Commission campaign contribution data. The result provides details about the biggest lobbyist contributors and congressional recipients of campaign largesse and furnishes a contribution total nearly double the previous estimate.

The report, The Bankrollers: Lobbyists’ Payments to the Lawmakers They Court,  
was released today in a telephone press conference and details the amounts given to members of Congress since 1998 by the 50 biggest lobbyist money-givers. Twenty-seven percent of lobbyists have contributed an amount to lawmakers large enough to be recognized by the Federal Election Commission ($200 or more), and a select 6.1 percent of lobbyists have contributed at least $10,000 – totaling 83.4 percent of all lobbyist contributions. Many of the top recipients of congressional campaign money are on appropriations committees that dole out federal money.

The report also records the rise of contributions by lobbyists from $17.8 million in the 2000 election cycle to $33.9 million in the 2004 cycle – a 90.3 percent increase. In the 2006 election, lobbyists and their PACs are already on track to give about 10 percent more than in the previous cycle, not accounting for the expected increase in contributions as Election Day draws nearer.

“These numbers reveal the seamier side of Washington’s congressional decision-making,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. “Such enormous sums buy commensurate access, shutting most Americans out of the process and skewing legislation and budget allocation.”

Profiling the 10 lobbyists who have given the most to members of Congress since 1998, the report provides behind-the-scenes glimpses of some of the most egregious policy-making fiascos in recent years. One prime example is Kenneth Kies, who served as the chief of staff of the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation from 1995 to 1998 and who, along with his wife Kathleen, is the study’s fifth-highest lobbyist-contributor to Congress with $292,866 since 1998.

Kies played an indispensable role in preserving the “synfuel” tax credit, which has allowed exploitative companies to bilk the Treasury out of $1 billion to $4 billion per year merely by spraying coal with diesel fuel or other substances and claiming a tax credit for creating a “synthetic” fuel. The top recipient of their largesse, House Ways and Means Select Measures Subcommittee Chairman Jim McCrery (R-La.), has helped protect the synfuel tax credit from a crackdown by both the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service.

Lobbyist Denny Miller, whose $293,203 in contributions to members of Congress since 1998 rank him fourth in Public Citizen’s study, was one of two lobbyists to negotiate the proposed $30 billion Boeing tanker deal in 2001. Miller was a former chief of staff to Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-Wash.), the former senator for Boeing’s hometown and corporate headquarters.

When on the verge of passage, the deal imploded amid revelations that leasing the planes would be more expensive than purchasing them outright, that the military didn’t truly need the planes and that the negotiations repeatedly violated regulations. This near-miss is considered one of the worst procurement abuses in recent decades and has resulted in prison sentences for a Boeing executive and a Pentagon official.

“The campaign contributions lobbyists make from their own checkbooks, while significant, are just a fraction of the equation,” said Claybrook. “This report also reveals that top lobbyist contributors coordinate lucrative fund-raisers for the lawmakers they hope to influence and bring in a steady stream of contributions from their corporate clients far greater than they alone give.”

The lobbyist couple Denny and Sandra Miller once hosted a pair of fund-raisers for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) that netted the lawmaker $160,000 in just four hours. The total the Millers could have contributed as individuals under the campaign finance law at the time was $4,000. Denny Miller was also among 15 lobbyists who coordinated a fund-raiser for a Stevens foundation in 2004 that raised $2 million.

And while disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff ranks 30th among the lobbyists considered in the report with $180,503 in contributions to members of Congress since 1998, his clients contributed a total of $2.6 million to members of Congress in the same time period.

To limit this type of waste and malfeasance, Congress should prevent lobbyists from making contributions of greater than $200 per election to lawmakers’ campaign committees or from contributing more than $500 per election cycle to national parties or leadership PACs, the report says. Lobbyists should also be prevented from arranging contributions to federal candidates, serving as officials on candidate campaign committees and leadership PACs, funding events “honoring” members of Congress and contributing to foundations controlled by lawmakers. None of these limitations are in the pending ethics and lobby reform bills before Congress, revealing how inadequate they are.

The report recommends publicly financing campaigns as the only real remedy to abuses and scandals. Public funding would pay for itself by saving billions wasted in lobbyist-brokered corporate giveaways.

“Our system of selling federal tax breaks, contracts, subsidies, loan guarantees and regulatory cutbacks to the highest bidder is not only subverting the democratic process, it’s costing the country billions and driving up the national debt,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and the principal author of the report. “Even spending as much as $2 billion a year to publicly finance campaigns would be cheaper than the synfuel boondoggle alone – and that’s just one of the tax credits that has emerged from the toxic combination of influence-peddlers and campaign contributions.”