Companies, associations and the lobbyists employed by them contributed almost $19 million to charities in honor of federal officials last year, the vast majority of it for members of Congress, according to a new report I wrote over on the Reporting Group blog. The report parsed messy disclosures that all lobbying entities have to file every six months ever since 2008, when a law aimed at shining a light on lobbyist influence in Washington came into effect.
To find out which lawmakers and cabinet members were honored most, or to see which interests paid the most in honorary expenses last year, search the interactive graphic below. You can even filter the graphic for lawmakers from your home state.
To embed the graphic on your site, just use this code: <iframe frameborder="0" height="605" scrolling="no" src="http://assets.sunlightfoundation.com/honorees_update/index.html" style="overflow: hidden; margin=10px" width="590"></iframe>
One interesting finding is that the amount of honorary contributions has declined ever since 2009. The campaign finance lawyer I spoke with, Brett Kappel, said that transparency has made lawmakers less likely to ask for donations--especially when it comes to their own charities--and companies are less likely to give if they are publicly scrutinized. Still, the companies continue the honorary giving, doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to some lawmakers' pet causes, and for charity galas where lawmakers receive awards. Even though it goes to good causes, it also gives them good access to powerful officials--sometimes as good as sitting at the same dinner table.
The above graph also shows that most of the money went to honoring lawmakers. Here is the 2011 breakdown:
- Individual members of Congress: $9.6 million
- Congressional caucuses or delegations: $5.7 million
- Executive branch officials: $3.5 million
- Legislative branch staff and federal candidates: $158,000
It was also striking to discover how narrow the disclosure rules are. There are plenty of ways to honor lawmakers without having to disclose that you did, and you can read all about them in the "Loopholes" section of the report.
Another important part of the story is just how unfriendly the data is. As with a lot of congressional ethics data, this kind is messy. It may be because Congress writes rules for itself that the end result is information that takes a lot of time and effort to make any sense of. It took weeks to standardize the names of officials and delete duplicated and erroneous reports, and that's after already being familiar with the data after writing a similar report last year.
The report focuses on the increased honorary giving by lobbying giants Google and General Motors. It also explores the connections between the cosmetics industry and a charity associated with Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.
To read more details about how the analysis was done, head here.
(Graphics by Jacob Fenton and Kevin Koehler)