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Public Citizen Challenges Sen. Conrad Burns to Honor the Spirit of His Own Lobbying Reform Legislation

Jan. 25, 2006

Public Citizen Challenges Sen. Conrad Burns to Honor the Spirit of His Own Lobbying Reform Legislation

Tonight’s Lobbyist-Sponsored Birthday Party Highlights
Reform Groups’ Concerns About Influence-Peddling

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Amid the largest congressional corruption scandal in decades, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) is celebrating his 71st birthday with a fundraiser sponsored by the D.C. lobbying firm of Cassidy & Associates – the No. 1 all-lobbying firm in Washington for five years running, with $28.9 million in contracts in 2004.

The birthday event, which was recently relocated from the lobbying firm’s offices to the Republican Senate campaign headquarters due to adverse publicity, raises questions about Burns’ commitment to his own lobbying reform legislation. Burns signed on to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) lobbying reform bill (S. 2128) as lead co-sponsor soon after it was revealed that Burns had been a major recipient of campaign contributions from admitted felon and former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Abramoff’s clients.

“If Sen. Burns is going to take time out from his reform efforts to attend fundraisers organized and funded by corporate lobbyists, at a minimum he should be willing to put his money where his mouth is and give the public the same information that his bill would have others disclose about such activities,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. “These lobbyists are not doing this without a price. They want legislation or subsidies from the federal treasury to be secured by Burns, who is in a senior position on key Senate committees. His Montana constituents are entitled to know who is funding their senator.”

In recognition of the reforms proposed in the McCain-Burns bill, and in response to Burns’ fundraiser tonight, Public Citizen is issuing a challenge to Burns to honor the spirit of his proposed legislation by doing the following:

Disclose the Money Being Raised From Lobbyists

One provision of Burns’ lobbying reform bill requires the disclosure of the total amount of money collected from lobbyists at fundraisers, as well as how much was contributed by each lobbyist.

Therefore, Public Citizen calls on Burns to promptly disclose to the public the amount of money raised at the fundraiser and the amount of money raised from individual lobbyists, as well as their names and who they represent.

Shed Light on the “Revolving Door” Between Government and Lobbying Firms

Cassidy & Associates’ roster of federal employees-turned-lobbyists illustrates the frequency with which members of Congress, their staff and senior executive branch officials pass through the “revolving door” from government service to lobbying. Such a status provides them with unparalleled access to and influence with policymakers. In 2005, the firm was ranked the No. 1 all-lobbying firm for the fifth straight year by Influence, a   lobbying industry trade publication.

In 2005, Cassidy employed at least 48 former federal employees – 98 percent of the lobbyists Cassidy lists on its Web site – to woo lawmakers and other officials, according to research by Public Citizen. The list includes former members of Congress, Rep. Martin A. Russo (D-Ill.), CEO and senior vice chairman at Cassidy, and Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y), Cassidy president.

The firm has also served as a popular landing pad for those leaving the staff of acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to lobby. For instance, Gregg Hartley, Blunt’s former chief of staff, is Cassidy’s vice chairman & COO. Ali Amirhooshman, former Blunt policy adviser, is a Cassidy vice president. A third former Blunt staffer, Jared Craighead, left Blunt’s employ to lobby for Cassidy in 2004. He later left Cassidy to become senior policy advisor to the congressman’s son, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt. Cassidy also employs Todd Boulanger as a senior vice president; he is the husband of Blunt’s press secretary, Jessica Boulanger.

Cassidy was tainted by the Abramoff scandal – after Abramoff was fired from Greenberg Traurig, he was recruited by Hartley to be a Cassidy consultant. Todd Boulanger also has Abramoff ties. The former “Team Abramoff” lobbyist worked with the disgraced former lobbyist at the three lobbying firms that employed him: Preston Gates, Greenberg Traurig and Cassidy.

To throw light on the revolving doors between government and lobbying, Burns’ proposed reform bill would require lobbyists to disclose whether they had previously worked for the federal government.

Therefore, Public Citizen calls upon Burns to identify those lobbyists contributing to Burns at tonight’s fundraiser who are former members of Congress, congressional staff or executive branch officials.

Limit the Amount of Money Raised From Lobbyists

Tonight’s fundraiser highlights a major shortcoming of the McCain-Burns bill: It is primarily a disclosure bill. Knowing that a lobbyist has handed a fat check to a lawmaker is useful, but it doesn’t change the fact that the lobbyist expects something in return.

Burns has a long history of using lobbyists and lobbying firms, such as Cassidy, to raise money for his campaigns. For example, he has raised more money from lobbyists since 2001 ($183,608), than from any other industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).

Lobbyists provide candidates with funds not only through direct contributions, but more importantly by organizing events like tonight’s fundraiser to which they invite their impressive list of clients and by bundling contributions from their clients and colleagues.  

This week, Public Citizen and six other national reform groups called for reforms that would break the nexus between lobbyists, lawmakers and campaign cash that typifies the influence-peddling system in Washington by ending the role of lobbyists and lobbying firms in raising funds for candidates.

Therefore, Public Citizen calls upon Burns to adopt the recommendations made by seven national reform organizations that would cap at $200 per election the amount of money candidates could receive from lobbyists and lobbying firm PACs, and prohibit lobbyists from organizing fundraising events, such as the Cassidy event, and from bundling campaign contributions from their clients and colleagues. Until such recommendations are made law, we urge Burns to abide by them if his opponents agree to do the same.

Remove Lobbyists from Controlling the Candidate’s Purse Strings

Lobbyists fill a number of top positions in Burns’ fundraising operation:

  • Current campaign chairman, Mark Baker, is a lobbyist for Anderson & Baker. The firm’s clients include two of Burns’ top 10 campaign contributors since 2001: Bresnan Communications (ranked No. 5, according to CRP, at $22,650) and Precision Lift (ranked No. 6 at $17,900).
  • Campaign finance and fundraising co-chairman, John Etchart, is a lobbyist for the Gallatin Group.
  • The former treasurer of his leadership PAC, Barbara Bonfiglio, was a lobbyist for Williams & Jensen.

If real reform is to be achieved in Congress, intimate connections such as these between lobbyists and a candidate’s fundraising operation must be eliminated.

Therefore, Public Citizen calls upon Burns to remove lobbyists from senior leadership positions in his campaign fundraising operation.

“Lobbyist fundraising is bad enough, but allowing lobbyists to control an officeholder’s purse strings is nothing short of a scandal waiting to happen,” said Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.