Lobbyists move into unlimited money territory


Jeffery Scott Bensing, a registered lobbyist and former Chief of Staff to Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., filed paperwork in January with the Federal Election Commission to create the Freedom Path Action Network, a new independent expenditure only committee.These committees–also known as Super PACs because they can raise unlimited funds from any source and spend it to support or oppose federal candidates–played critical roles in some races in the 2010 mid-term elections.

Through his firm, SB Strategic Consulting, Bensing's represents a small group of clients from varying industries including the online travel site Expedia.com. On behalf of these clients, Bensing has disclosed contacting Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency. Since his lobbying firm first registered in August 2009, he's reported receiving $470,000 in lobbying fees; Expedia has accounted for $180,000 of that amount.

As a lobbyist, Bensing has been a modest donor to federal candidates; in the 2010 election cycle, he reported contributions totaling $1,250. According to OpenSecrets.org and InfluenceExplorer.com, the employees, their family members and the political action committee of Expedia contributed a little more than $41,000 in the same cycle. Those donations are limited by federal election law, and had to come from individuals.

A Super PAC, by contrast, can accept contributions from any source in unlimited amounts. A company like Expedia, which had profits in 2010 of more than $2.6 billion, could contribute directly from its corporate treasury to Bensing's Super PAC. There is no indication that the company, or any of Bensing's other clients, have done so. 

Expedia did not respond to questions of whether or not the company would consider contributing to the Freedom Path Action Network. Bensing also didn't respond to whether or not he would solicit contributions from the corporations he lobbies for.

However, a spokesperson for Bensing’s group, the Freedom Path Action Network, did say in an email that,  “Mr. Bensing will continue to ensure that all activities that he engages in comply with his legal and ethical obligations.”

The Freedom Path Action Network group is not the first SuperPAC to be registered with the FEC by a lobbyist, but it is the first in 2011. In 2010, at least 6 other groups were registered by lobbyists.

No donations or spending have been reported yet by Bensing’s group.