Mark Warner biggest recipient of lobbyist dough, new disclosures show (so far)


Mark Warner, who's running for Virginia's open seat to the U.S. Senate and will serve as the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, has received more than $206,000 from lobbyists since the beginning of the year, a Real Time Investigations analysis of recently released disclosure records show.


That makes Warner the top recipient of money contributed directly by lobbyists to congressional campaigns in 2008. Overall, Warner, the former Virginia governor who is seeking the seat now held by retiring Republican Sen. John Warner, has raised $18 million since he announced his candidacy in September 2007, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Real Time is releasing a list of the 20 congressional campaigns that have gotten the most contributions from individual lobbyists and a spreadsheet with all individual contributions from lobbyists to federal candidates in the first six months of 2008. Close on the heels of Warner's $206,000 are Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and John Sununu, R-N.H.

Of the 20 members who have received the most in individual contributions from lobbyists only four are house members including Tom Udall, D-N.M., Mark Udall, D-Colo., John Murtha, D-Pa., and Eric Cantor, R-Va.

While the list is dominated by incumbents, some of Washington's K Street denizens are contributing heavily to the campaigns of challengers; in addition to Warner, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who's running against Sununu, has received more than $61,000 from lobbyists"16th on the list.

In all, the new disclosures, required by the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (HLOGA), reveal that federally registered lobbyists have given federal candidates more than $10 million since the beginning of this year. That figure does not include the money contributed to candidates by political action committees (PACs) associated with or directed by lobbyists. It is based on available records released by the Senate Office of Public Records (SOPR) as of Aug. 8.

The LD-203s, as the new contribution disclosure forms are called, must be filed twice a year by individual lobbyists, lobbying firms and the PACs that are related to them. Lobbyists have to disclose contributions to members of Congress, expenditures related to events where there are lawmakers were present and expenses related to events where lawmakers are honored. Additionally, all contributions to presidential libraries, including non-cash gifts, must be disclosed. Real Time will release analysis of those categories of giving in the coming weeks.

Lobbyists working for the Washington-based law firm Hogan & Hartson LLP have donated more than $10,000 to Warner's campaign, more than from any other firm. Their clients include health care and hospitals, government contractors such as EADS and automobile companies including Ford Motor Co. and General Motors.

Overall, lobbyists working for PMA Group, Patton Boggs and Williams & Jensen, PLLC were the most generous supporters of federal candidates. PMA Group's lobbyists led with more than $232,000 in campaign donations.

Methodology and issues with the data

The spread sheet we're releasing today is based on data downloaded from the SOPR LD-203 page, which was last updated Aug. 8. The spread sheet contains a subset of that data, focusing on contributions made under the Federal Election Campaign Act and directed to a particular candidate's campaign. As noted, this data includes only contributions made by lobbyists to candidates and do not include contributions made to candidates through PACs associated with lobbying firms or with corporations. The numbers also look only at the money spent in campaign donations that are to be reported to the FEC. It doesn't include honorary expenditures or meeting expenses that have to be disclosed under the new rules.

This is the first time lobbyists have had to file LD-203 reports; it's also the first time that SOPR (and the House Clerk's Office, which has also released the reports) has had to make the information public. The SOPR data system seems to have various teething issues. For one, it is impossible to correctly aggregate numbers, because SOPR's data includes individual contributions multiple times. According to officials working with the Senate disclosure database, this is because no provision was made to identify which forms have been amended or changed after an initial filing. Thus, every time a lobbyist or firm files an amended disclosure, each contribution repeated is reentered into the system. Because some firms and individuals filed multiple disclosures, the raw Senate data ridiculously overstates the amount of contributions. Real Time relied on the most recently filed form from individuals to compile this database, eliminating double and triple counting (and reducing the record set from more than 107,000 to about 14,000 records).

There are other sources for potential double counting as well. Under HLOGA, a lobbyist who runs a PAC must disclose the PAC's contributions to members of Congress on his own LD-203. Because HLOGA requires PACs that are run by lobbyists to file LD-203s, those same contributions are disclosed a second time.

Besides double counting, there are other problems with the data. As per the rules, lobbyists have to disclose if they are on the board of a PAC; since there is no specific area to disclose this, the information is mostly added in the comments section, making it more difficult to determine that a contribution is from an individual lobbyist or the PAC he's affiliated with.

Names of members of Congress and candidates aren't standardized in the data. In many cases, leadership PACs are listed as the recipient with no indication of which member is benefiting.

The data also contains obvious errors, including contributions to candidates running as high as $200,000 (individuals can contribute $2,300 to a campaign, PACs $5,000). In preparing this spread sheet, we left out more than 500 records which disclosed individual contributions of more than $2,300, assuming that people filling out the forms made an error.

Both the Senate and the House make the data available for download. As difficult to work with as the SOPR data was, the House side seems to be even more clunky. Rather than a single file, the House allows users to download each report individually, and assemble the database themselves.

According to the officials who manage the database at the Senate, what's available on the site is perhaps only 80 per cent of all the reports, which continue to trickle in, so users will get a full scope of the data only in the next couple of weeks.