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New Report Reveals Extent to Which Lobbying System Taints Congress, Highlights Need for Publicly Financed Campaigns; Statement o

May 22, 2006

New Report Reveals Extent to Which Lobbying System Taints Congress, Highlights Need for Publicly Financed Campaigns

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen

Lobbyists throw their financial weight around Congress to get tax breaks, contracts, loan guarantees, subsidies and regulatory cutbacks. Today, Public Citizen reveals startling new details about the extent to which members of Congress are tainted by campaign cash.

In our report, “The Bankrollers: Lobbyists’ Payments to the Lawmakers They Court,” we illustrate the buying and selling of Congress – and show that it takes place at huge taxpayer expense. We detail which lobbyists are paying how much to which lawmakers, and for the top ten, show what the influence-peddlers obtained for their dollars. The evidence makes an airtight case for overhauling the lobbying system with real lobbying and ethics reform and breaking the corrosive nexus between lobbyists, money and lawmakers.

Our chief finding is that lobbyists and the political action committees of their firms have contributed $103.1 million to members of Congress since 1998. That is nearly double previous rough estimates.

We got that number by doing something that no one has done before – matching the list of everyone who registered to lobby Congress since 1998 with the list of people who have contributed at least $200 to members of Congress since then.

We found that just a few lobbyists are responsible for the bulk of the payments. Just more than 6 percent of lobbyists have contributed $10,000 or more to members of Congress since 1998. This select group accounts for 83.4 percent (four-fifths) of the total contributed by lobbyists.

We see in the numbers evidence of a financial arms race. Lobbyists’ contributions are on the rise – payments to members of Congress by lobbyists and their firms’ PACs rose more than 90 percent between the 2000 election cycle and the 2004 election cycle, skyrocketing to $33.9 million. The three industries that have paid the most in fees to the firms of the top ten lobbyist contributors are finance, defense and education.

In addition to adding up the numbers, we profiled 10 of these top lobbyist-contributors – the behind-the-scenes maestros who are orchestrating the writing of legislation – and we list who their clients are. Some top lobbyists, such as Bill Paxon, Susan Molinari, Stewart Van Scoyac, Michael Berman, Denny Miller, Kenneth Kies and more came through the revolving door – they were members of Congress or congressional staff members and now are cashing in on the connections they made by lobbying their former colleagues.

Our analysis shows that lobbyists who make the highest payments to Congress receive some of the most lucrative favors in return – favors that cost taxpayers billions.

Consider the “synfuel” boondoggle, pushed by lobbyist-contributor Kenneth Kies, through which Congress has perpetuated the “synfuel” tax credit. This tax credit 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, then claiming a tax credit for creating a “synthetic” fuel.

Another boondoggle that was orchestrated by lobbyist-contributor Denny Miller is the infamous $30 billion Boeing air refueling tanker proposal, which came within an eyelash of passage. The near-deal has subsequently been deemed one of the worst procurement episodes in recent decades and has landed two people in prison.

But lobbyist contributions represent only a fraction of their role in bankrolling members of Congress. These influence-peddlers also serve as unpaid foot soldiers who dutifully host fund-raisers and engage in other activities to solicit campaign contributions – often from their clients – to the lawmakers they woo.

Our findings highlight how ineffective the recent so-called lobbying reform legislation is. Congress has not taken one critical step necessary to break the stranglehold that moneyed interests have over Congress, and that is to cut off the flow of money between lobbyists and lawmakers. Our report provides the factual and legal justification to do that.

Breaking the money flow is common sense. Had we done this before 1998 and these wasteful projects had never come into existence, we would have more than enough money saved in the U.S. Treasury to publicly finance campaigns.

The time has come for publicly funded campaigns.

We will continue to mine this data and expect to produce more revealing reports about how business is done in Washington.