LD-203s: Sunlight on Lobbyist Giving


It’s been almost three weeks since Washington lobbyists had to turn in their new lobbyist disclosure reports titled the LD-203. The new disclosure requirement is a result of the series of ethics and transparency bills passed into law last year. “The Jack Abramoff report” is how one lawyer called the new rule in “honor” of the scandal that gave great momentum to the reform, according to Roll Call (subscription required).

Last month I speculated that there should be some interesting material in these new reports. I’m proud to point to my Sunlight colleagues Bill Allison and Anupama Narayanswamy, who are doing great analysis of the disclosures. As Anu reported last week, Mark Warner, former Virginia governor and U.S. Senate candidate, has received the most cash from lobbyist so far this year, a total of $206,000.

Other investigators are finding useful information too.

Analysis by The New York Times found that lobbyists usually favor one party for their giving. “One might expect a lobbyist to hedge their bets by donating roughly equal amounts to members of both parties,”

CQ reported earlier this month on how corporations make large charitable contributions as another way to influence politicians. The new law requires that these transactions are now disclosed. Another analysis of the reports by CQ found that lobbyists working for the 15 biggest earning firms gave $4 million, averaging $280,000 per firm.

Over the past few days, the Associated Press has published the results of numerous investigations using the disclosure reports, looking at what specific companies and trade organizations have spent to influence government.  The Mortgage Insurance Companies of America, the trade group for mortgage insurers, spent more than $1.1 million lobbying in the first quarter on issues dealing with the housing market slump. Sallie Mae, America’s leader in making student loans, spent $640,000 to lobby the government in the second quarter in an effort to pass legislation forcing federal assistance in propping up the troubled student loan market. Freddie Mac spent almost $2.3 million in the second quarter. The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America spent $240,000 in the second quarter on food safety and tax issues. Tyson Foods spent more than $550,000 lobbying the federal government on agriculture and trade issues in the second quarter. Apple spent $450,000 in the second quarter lobbying. Wal-Mart spent $1.4 million in second quarter, while General Electric spent $5.4 million over the same period.  The list goes on and on.

Zachary Roth at TPM Muckraker writes today how the disclosure reports are helping to uncover the public relations front in the war between Russia and Georgia. Both have invested in agents here in Washington to make their case with Uncle Sam.

Amanda Adams, writing at OMB Watch’s blog, points to a BNA Money and Politics (subscription required) report that found “lobbyists and the organizations they work for have disclosed nearly 100,000 contributions and other payments linked to members of Congress and other top officials.”  The report quotes Craig Holman of Public Citizen as saying he “used the new database to calculate a total of $26 million just in direct campaign contributions by individual lobbyists to lawmakers over the first half of this year.” He also said that “he found over $200 million in other political expenditures by lobbying organizations contained in reports filed under the new law, though he acknowledged problems with the new database that make that number only a very rough estimate.”

These reports thus far have just scratched the surface.