Washington, DC-A month-long collaborative investigation by the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Responsive Politics has uncovered never-before-seen webs of campaign contributions from outside lobbyists and their clients, who are all important players in the health care reform, to key members of Congress. The investigation identified outside lobbyists that donated to the same members of Congress as their clients, and strongly suggests that special interest giving is enhanced by the K Street contributors they hire.
Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and author of the main health care reform bill now being debated in the Senate, was one of the biggest beneficiaries of this one-two punch from the lobbyists and their clients. From January 2007 through June 2009, Baucus collected contributions from 37 outside lobbyists representing PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry's chief trade association, and 36 lobbyists who listed drug maker Amgen Inc. as their client.
Nor was Baucus alone—other members also received contributions from the employees, their family members and political action committees of health care firms and from the outside lobbyists that represented them. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., collected lobbyist “bundles” from 14 major health care organizations. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., actually led the list, with 22 organizations—though much of that money was directed at his presidential campaign last year.
Other leading recipients of combined lobbyist-client giving were Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Democratic Senators Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Mark Udall of Colorado.
PhRMA and Amgen were the organizations with the most outside lobbyists chipping in with extra contributions. Some 32 members of Congress got money from 10 or more PhRMA lobbyists over the last two-and-a-half years. Amgen's lobbyists did the same for 24 members.
Behind them were Roche Holdings, with 16 members, Pfizer Inc. with 13, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield with 11.
There is no indication that the extra giving by lobbyists was part of a planned effort by the health care firms to solidify their support among key members of Congress. But whether coordinated or not, the newly-found clusters of lobbyist giving clearly illustrate the intensity of the full-court press that the industry is currently waging on Capitol Hill.
In all, 61 members of Congress—39 in the Senate, 22 in the House, 38 Democrats and 23 Republicans—got money from 10 or more outside lobbyists whose health care or health insurance industry clients also contributed to their campaigns.
The Sunlight Foundation's research into the lobbyist-and-client giving was conducted by combining campaign contribution records with reports filed by lobbyists that identified their clients. The Center for Responsive Politics has been collecting that data for years, but this was the first time the two databases were combined to identify all cases where outside lobbyists contributed to the same members of Congress as their clients.
The magnitude of the combined giving was a surprise even to the researchers. “We expected to find some correlation between major donors and the lobbyists who work for them,” said lead researcher Larry Makinson, who is senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation. “But when we saw a dozen, two dozen, even three dozen lobbyists for a single company giving to the same members as their clients, we were frankly stunned.”
Overall, the research found that about 90 percent of the lobbyist donations were given by the lobbyists themselves. Another 10 percent came from members of their immediate families, mainly spouses. Interestingly, about one-third of the contributions were given not to the members’ campaign committees, but to their leadership PACs—separate funds that members control—but that get far less media scrutiny than their reelection campaigns. The leadership PACs also have higher contribution limits, enabling lobbyists to give well beyond the nominal $2,400 limit that applies to campaign committees.
The Sunlight Foundation is a non-partisan nonprofit dedicated to using the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency. Visit SunlightFoundation.com to learn more about Sunlight’s projects, including Transparency Corps, Party Time and OpenCongress.