This post is all research and no results — that’ll come later. I wanted to take a look at a vote my colleague Paul Blumenthal referred to with the title (quoting Sen. Richard Durbin) “They own the place.” The “they” in question are financial sector firms, the place is Congress; at issue is a bill, the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 — or rather, an amendment to that bill — that was voted down by a 51-45 margin.
The Durbin amendment, also known as the cram down bill, would have removed the mortgage exemption from bankruptcy proceedings, allowing bankruptcy judges some leeway to rewrite the terms of mortgages which in turn might prevent a lot of foreclosures. It’s fairly clear that Wall Street opposed the measure (here’s a letter from a bunch of financial industry, business and Wall Street trade groups that begins, “The undersigned organizations are strongly opposed to a bankruptcy cram down amendment that is likely to be offered by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) to S. 896…”).
Sadly, what we find out about the industry’s efforts to influence members of Congress we only discover in retrospect. To go back to the Durbin amendment: The vote was on April 30, which falls squarely in the second quarter of 2009, so we won’t see campaign contributions and lobbying activity until after the quarter ends. (Lobbying filings for the second quarter are due on July 20, 2009; campaigns file their contribution records on July 15, 2009). So the gaggles of lobbyists disclosing an interest in the bill won’t turn up til later; neither will the PAC contributions or the bundles of individual contributions from interests that opposed the bill.
So, I’m going to run the nay voters, in alphabetical order, through Party Time to see what turns up. Did lobbyists and PACs of interests opposed to the cram down host fundraisers for members of Congress around the time of the vote? Some caveats, of course, are in order: Party Time, sadly, is not a complete database of fundraisers. Some of those fundraisers for which we do have information list hosts who can be tied to specific interests, but many of them list no host, or the hosts are lobbyists who represent many clients. Then again, just because agricultural interests are hosting a fundraiser for a member doesn’t mean that employees or lobbyists of a financial institution can’t show up. And, of course, two-thirds of our senators aren’t in campaign mode — they don’t face voters again until 2012 or 2014 — so we might not see fundraisers for them. Like many of the things we do, we’re starting by saying, we have no idea what value this adds, but it seems worth playing with a while to see what falls out.
In addition to Party Time, I’m also going to check OpenSecrets.org, the FEC site and the Senate Office of Public Records lobbying database to see what turns up there–again, none of those filings will cover the weeks leading up to the April 30 vote or its aftermath, but perhaps we can find a few clues there.
That said, let’s take a look and see what we can see. I’ll be fumbling through this the next couple of days or so, doing ten or so members at a time. Here’s the first batch…
Sen. Lamar Alexander: Nothing in 2009. He’s not up for reelection until 2014. He’s raised all of $5,684 in the first quarter of 2009.
Sen. John Barrasso: Though he’s not up for reelection til 2014, he’s had a pair of fundraisers 2009. On March 12 he raised money for his leadership PAC, Wyoming values. I took a look at the FEC’s site, and they currently have no 2009 info posted for the PAC — worth keeping an eye on. Barrasso also had a fundraiser for his own reelection committee on March 5 hosted by Louis DuPart. There’s a Louis DuPart who, according to Open Secrets, went through the revolving door and now represents a bunch of clients — not sure though whether the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has a position on cram downs.
Sen. Max Baucus is the politician you want to contribute to if you’re into snow mobiling, fishing, camping or golf. At three of the four events he’s hosted or will host in 2009, Baucus is raising money for his leadership PAC, the Glacier PAC; sadly, the FEC has no info on 2009 contributions. Baucus also raised, in the first quarter of 2009, $216,534 for his campaign committee. The contributions can be accessed here in a nonsearchable format — I flipped through the first couple of pages and saw a lot of contributions from employees of Patton Boggs.
Sen. Michael Bennett: Has three fundraisers in 2009. One hosted by (and at the offices of) law and lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which represents, among others, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the bill. Akin Gump didn’t list it though among their lobbying issues in the first quarter of 2009; it will be worth looking it up in the second quarter though. Tony Podesta hosted another fundraiser for Bennett; he represents, among others, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; again, worth checking that lobbying disclosure form in July…
Sen. Bob Bennett: Okay, lots to look at. We have ten fundraisers in 2009 — Bennett’s raising money for his 2010 reelection bid — $474,675 in the first quarter. I’d love to know who showed up at his April 29 fundraiser which featured special guest Sen. Thad Cochran. The May 6 fundraiser looks like it’s being hosted by phone company lobbyists, while the April 11 breakfast looks like it’s been hosted by a group of lobbyists who represent health care (and other) interests–one of the hosts appears to be a former Bennett staffer.
Sen. Christopher Bond: Had an April 21 fundraiser. Bond is stepping down when his term ends in 2010 (thanks to Paul Blumenthal for the correction). On 2010, and raised $14,317 in the first quarter, according to Open Secrets. His leadership PAC hasn’t reported any contributions in 2009, according to the FEC.
Sen. Sam Brownback: His term expires in 2010, and he’s not seeking reelection.
Sen. Jim Bunning: No fundraisers for Bunning in 2009 from Party Time’s database (of course, as noted above, that doesn’t mean he didn’t have any–just that our sources didn’t get invited to any). Bunning raised $262,980 in the first quarter of 2009.
Sen. Richard Burr: A whopping 13 fundraisers in 2009; up for reelection in 2010, Burr raised $702,600 in the first quarter. Note the April 22 fundraiser hosted by the U.S. Chamber PAC — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the opponents of the bill.
Sen. Robert Byrd: Nothing in Party Time’s database. Byrd isn’t up for reelection until 2012.
…More to come…