Sunlight Labs is often asked "What CMS do you use?". James discusses our development philosophy and the drawbacks of CMS selection.
Don't be fooled by the talking heads and the pundits who ceaselessly tell us that nothing interesting happens at the Democratic and Republican nominating conventions. Lobbyists wine and dine party insiders and elected officials, big donors feast with the party insiders who depend on their deep pockets, and corporations with business before the federal government pick up most of the tab.
All this happens behind the scenes, of course, but we can give you a glimpse of it, thanks to a pair of documents listing events at the Democratic National Convention in Denver and the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St.Paul* that Sunlight unearthed as part of its about-to-be-launched Party Time project.
Compiled by a top Washington lobbying firm, Quinn Gillespie & Associates, the lists identify 370 parties, receptions, symposiums and other events sponsored by the likes of Bank of America, the Distilled Spirits Council, Eli Lilly, AT&T, and Anheuser Busch. They show that partying will continue at the conventions despite the new ethics law, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, which prohibits lobbyists from throwing parties honoring specific lawmakers.
A sampling of the parties listed include:
Democratic National Convention • An opening night party on Sunday at the Democratic National Convention by the lobbying firm Brownstein, Hyatt, where convention organizer, Steven Farber, works, at the Denver Art Museum; • A DNC top donor reception that same night; • A variety of events for delegates sponsored by AT&T; • A "late nite" party at The Loft sponsored by USTelecom on Monday night; • An "FSR Literacy" luncheon on Tuesday sponsored by a host of financial companies. Republican National Convention • A health care luncheon on Tuesday sponsored by Eli Lilly; • A host of parties sponsored by AT&T, including a "Texas honky tonk," a Young Guns" reception, and an African American voter reception and a Hispanic voter reception; • A reception sponsored by the National Association of Broadcasters;. • Hospitality suites sponsored by Honeywell, Anheuser Busch, and Citi; • A wrap party hosted by the lobbying firm Patton Boggs.
The lists were unearthed in the data collection for a new Sunlight project, called Party Time, headed by a veteran money-in-politics reporter and investigator, Nancy Watzman. Party Time, which will make its debut the week of August 18, compiles the thousands of invitations to congressional fundraisers that are sent out by fax, email and snail mail to lobbyists, Political Action Committee (PAC) representatives and others around Washington, D.C. and beyond. Visitors to the Web site will be able to find out about the events, often before they happen.
I should add that the lists Quinn & Gillespie compiled are not a complete list of events. Check back the week of August 18th to find out more.
*--Apologies to St. Paul and Bob Collins.
As chairman of the House Republican Conference, Rep. Adam Putnam has been busy with the #dontgo protest, in which angry House Republicans have stayed at the Capitol building during August recess, calling on Rep. Nancy Pelosi to schedule a vote on their energy plan that would seek an end to the long-standing moratorium on off shore drilling.
Does that mean Putnam "won't go" to his scheduled fundraiser in Walt Disney World this weekend?
We have in our possession an invitation to said fundraiser, billed as a "weekend at the Walt Disney Resort," specifically at the Polynesian Resort, proceeds to benefit "Putnam for Congress." There's also a special guest, fellow Republican Florida Rep. Ander Crenshaw. The invitation came to us as part of our preparation for launching Party Time, a new Sunlight project, which will make its debut in the next couple of weeks. (Stay tuned for an announcement soon.)
"We only have 15 rooms, so it's going to be a small event," says the email accompanying the invitation.
Putnam isn't exactly hurting for cash in his reelection bid. He has raised $1.4 million to his opponent's $50,000. Over the course of his Congressional career, he's taken about $70,000 from the oil and gas industry.
Supporting off-shore drilling is a new thing for Floridians, where in the past Democrats and Republicans alike have opposed the idea for fear it would hurt tourism. Recently Gov. Charlie Crist, one of many reputed to be on Sen. John McCain's list for a possible vice presidential pick, reversed his long-standing support for the federal moratorium on offshore drilling.
We don't know if any oil and gas lobbyists rsvp'ed for Putnam's Walt Disney getaway, or if the #dontgo protest will end in time for him to catch a plane to Polynesia in Florida. It seems like a good question for his constituents to ask.
Three makes a trend, right? Today, there are three news stories on presidential bundlers - campaign contributors who solicit money from other contributors and bundle it together - and their activities. All of these stories highlight the need for bundling disclosure rules from the Federal Election Commission. But two of these stories pinpoint the potential for abuse in the bundling system.
The Washington Post looks at the odd practices of one Harry Sargent III, the owner of an oil trading company with billion dollar defense contracts. Sargent has raised over $50,000 for Sen. John McCain's presidential bid from a collection of Arab-Americans who refuse to discuss why they gave money to the Republican's campaign:
Some of the most prolific givers in Sargeant's network live in modest homes in Southern California's Inland Empire. Most had never given a political contribution before being contacted by Sargeant or his associates. Most said they have never voiced much interest in politics. And in several instances, they had never registered to vote. And yet, records show, some families have ponied up as much as $18,400 for various candidates between December and March. Both Sargeant and the donors were vague when asked to explain how Sargeant persuaded them to give away so much money. "I have a lot of Arab business partners. I do a lot of business in the Middle East. I've got a lot of friends," Sargeant said in a telephone interview yesterday. "I ask my friends to support candidates that I think are worthy of supporting. They usually come through for me."
As the Post story notes, this seems analogous to the Norman Hsu case that played out in 2007. Hsu was a con-artist who bundled large sums of money for Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential run from a collection of Chinese-Americans, many of whom were barely integrated into the larger American society. It turned out that Hsu funneled his own money through these individuals to be able to make contributions. Hsu was arrested for this and other crimes and Sen. Clinton returned hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. Are Sargent's bundled contributions legitimate? Why do the people who operate as Sargent's fundraising operation refuse to discuss why they are giving these campaign contributions?
In a very similar case, two individuals of modest means, an office manager at Hess and her husband, an Amtrak foreman, contributed $61,600 to Sen. McCain's campaign committee and a joint Republican-McCain committee. McClatchy:
Alice Rocchio is an office manager at the New York headquarters of the Hess Corp., drives a 1993 Chevy Cavalier and lives in an apartment in Queens, N.Y., with her husband, Pasquale, an Amtrak foreman. Despite what appears to be a middle-class lifestyle, the couple has written $61,600 in checks to John McCain's presidential campaign and the Republican National Committee, most of it within days of McCain's decision to endorse offshore oil drilling. At a June fundraiser, the Rocchios joined top executives at Hess Corp. — Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Hess, his wife, Susan, his mother, Norma Hess, and six other officials in giving a total of $313,500 to a joint McCain-RNC fundraising committee, Federal Election Commission records show.
Alice Rocchio insists that she and her husband used their own money to pay for these large campaign contributions, the first either her or husband have made. The June contributions to the joint committee were revealed in a Campaign Money Watch report earlier this week. The large Hess contributions came days before Sen. McCain switched his position on offshore drilling.
Clearly, these two stories show the danger of abuse in the bundling system and the clear lack of disclosure. While Congress approved disclosure of bundled contributions in the recent ethics reform bill, they only did so for federally registered lobbyists. In both cases, including the case of a federal contractor, neither party would be required to disclose the bundled contributions.
In our final bundling story of the day, the New York Times looks at the big dollar donors and bundlers surrounding Sen. Barack Obama's campaign. Despite the well-known small dollar donations machine the campaign built during the primaries, Sen. Obama is also raising massive sums from big dollar donors:
But records show that one-third of his record-breaking haul has come from donations of $1,000 or more: a total of $112 million, more than Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama’s Republican rival, or Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, his opponent in the Democratic primaries, raised in contributions of that size. Behind those larger donations is a phalanx of more than 500 Obama “bundlers,” fund-raisers who have each collected contributions totaling $50,000 or more. Many of the bundlers come from industries with critical interests in Washington. Nearly three dozen of the bundlers have raised more than $500,000 each, including more than a half-dozen who have passed the $1 million mark and one or two who have exceeded $2 million, according to interviews with fund-raisers.
This latest info on the McCain and Obama bundlers comes thanks to an effort by a number of groups, including the Sunlight Foundation, to pressure both campaigns to disclose their bundlers as former candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry both did. Voluntary disclosure is all well and good, but as I mentioned adove, mandatory disclosure would increase accountability and would apply across the board to include House and Senate bundlers as well.
Last Friday's broadcast of the Bill Moyers Journal replayed and updated its Capital Crimes report, which gives a very good overview of the Jack Abramoff scandal. In conjunction with the rebroadcast, the Journal has posted on its website an interview of Thomas Frank, author of What's the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America and regular columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Frank has just released his new book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, where he documents how politicians and their lobbyist friends are dismantling government through deregulation, budget cuts and by selling off essential services through private-sector bidding and privatization, all of course hidden from public view.
PoliticalWire.com dubbed the bottom line:
It is no coincidence that the same politicians who guffaw at the idea of effective government have installed a regime in which incompetence is the rule.
The ranks of conservatives running the federal government the past seven-plus years, Frank writes, are filled with men and women like Abramoff who betray their laissez faire philosophy to cut sweet heart deals for private industry. Harper's Magazine published an abridged version of the book in its August edition. And yesterday, NPR's Fresh Air broadcasted an interview with Frank about his new book.
Put it on your summer reading list. I am.
Today, the Sunlight Foundation launched a new web site, Pass223.com, to harness the distributed power of the Internet to pressure the Senate into increasing disclosure of campaign contributions by passing a bill - S. 223, the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act - requiring senators to file their contribution reports electronically.
We need your help to pass this bill. Please follow the link to Pass223.com and call your senators to find out where they stand on S. 223. The site has full instructions on who your senators are, how to call, what to say, and how to report back to us. For more detail on the bill, keep reading.
Currently, presidential candidates and candidates running for the House of Representatives file their campaign contributions in electronic form. Electronic filing speeds the process by which campaign contribution data reaches the public over the Internet, allowing citizens and journalists to more easily spot a conflict of interest or an inappropriate contribution. Filers in the Senate do not file electronically, delaying disclosure by weeks and possibly months.
Passage of S. 223 appears to be a "no-brainer," and isn't publicly opposed by any senator. However, at every step of the way over the past year and a half the bill has been interrupted and blocked for a variety of reasons.
Right now, Sen. John Ensign (pronounced en-sen) is blocking the bill by insisting on adding a poison pill amendment. This poison pill is meant to protect senators from legitimate ethics complaints filed by outside groups. The amendment would impose an unconstitutional burden on on charities, religious organizations and other nonprofits by forcing them to disclose their donors when they file ethics complaints against sitting senators. Ensign's amendment is opposed by a group of non-profits, religious groups, and charities from the right and the left.
For S. 223 to pass, Ensign's amendment must be defeated. And to do that, we need you help in identifying senators who OPPOSE Ensign and SUPPORT S. 223. This is a great chance to help pass a long overdue bill.
Go to Pass223.com and get started calling your senators (remember, you have two of them). Don't forget to report back so that we know where these senators stand on increasing campaign finance disclosure.
Pass223.com is a joint project of the Sunlight Foundation, Public Citizen, Public Campaign, Center for Responsive Politics, Campaign Finance Institute, Change Congress, and Open the Government.
As required by the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, the Clerk of the House launched an online database for current personal financical disclosures. The site only hosts PDF copies of these reports and is only searchable by member, not by anything they list on the reports. (I also had difficulty loading the PDF in the most recent version of Adobe Acrobat.) Kudos to the House for moving towards much greater transparency!
If you want to see how this information can be displayed in a more user-friendly and compelling way, check out the Open Secrets Financial Disclosure database.
Despite protestations from our favorite tweeting and qiking member of Congress, there does appear to be a relationship between supporting the policies of an industry and that industry supporting your campaign. TPM Muckraker, using data from Campaign Money Watch, points out the near immediate contributions from executives of an oil giant, the Hess Corporation, to a joint Republican National Committee-John McCain committee after Sen. McCain switched his position on offshore drilling. (Since Sen. Barack Obama switched his position after the second quarter filings, we'll have to wait to see if there's a similar effect.)
Ten senior Hess Corporation executives and/or members of the Hess family each gave $28,500 to the joint RNC-McCain fundraising committee, just days after McCain reversed himself to favor offshore drilling, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Nine of these contributions, seven from Hess executives and two from members of the Hess family, came on the same day, June 24th, the records show. The total collected in the wake of McCain's reversal for the fund, called McCain Victory 2008, from Hess execs and family is $285,000.
The Washington Post pointed out last week that contributions from oil executives picked up in the end of June. After the events of the past few days, third quarter campaign reports should be flush with more of these contributions.
Michael Stern at Point of Order, one of the better blogs for legal issues in Congress, covers the legal background of the charges brought against Sen. Ted Stevens. Stevens is facing seven felony charges for deliberately filing false financial disclosure forms to the Senate Ethics Committee. Give Stern's explanation a read; it'll be worth it when following the Stevens trial. Steven's trial starts on September 24.
Ben Pershing at the Washington Post writes, "If a party stages a protest on the House floor but no one can see or hear it, does it make a sound?" Yes, it makes a tweet.
After adjourning for the annual summer recess, House Republicans took to the floor to protest the failure of the House to hold a vote to allow offshore drilling. Since the protest happened after adjournment was announced, the House cameras and lights were turned off. While Republicans shouted from the floor and journalists hurried to see what was happening, GOP Rep. John Culberson was tweeting away the happenings from the floor. Culberson even let some other lawmakers take over his account including Roy Blunt, Adam Putnam, John Shimkus, Tom Price, Ted Poe, Virginia Foxx, and John Shadegg. Culberson's tweets marked yet another moment where Twitter broke a story before it could make it to the news.
Culberson is also Qiking the event. Pretty cool stuff.
But, Twitter isn't the only angle to this story. These lawmakers aren't simply taking to the floor to demand help for gas consumers, they are pushing a central facet of the oil industry's legislative agenda: offshore drilling. Just yesterday it was announced that, yet again, ExxonMobil broke the record for largest quarterly profit pulling in $11.7 Billion.
And as many can predict, the oil industry is very liberal in its contributions to the campaigns of congressmen who support their agenda. Let's start with the lawmakers who are mentioned as on the floor by press accounts and Rep. Culberson's tweets:
|Brady, Kevin (R-TX)||$369,797|
|Blunt, Roy (R-MO)||$362,248|
|Culberson, John (R-TX)||$301,961|
|Boehner, John (R-OH)||$185,000|
|Shimkus, John (R-IL)||$184,161|
|Pence, Mike (R-IN)||$150,950|
|Poe, Ted (R-TX)||$128,650|
|Shadegg, John (R-AZ)||$119,495|
|Putnam, Adam H (R-FL)||$70,300|
|Foxx, Virginia (R-NC)||$47,100|
|Sali, William T (R-ID)||$43,000|
|Price, Tom (R-GA)||$24,500|
That's a lot of money on the floor of the House right now.