Lobbyists can not only attempt to influence members of the deficit-cutting super committee by donating to their campaign, but they also have another tool: giving to good causes that honor them.
Companies, advocacy groups and their lobbyists have spent at least $715,000 to honor and cover meetings costs for the 12 members of the super committee during the first half of the year, according to lobbying disclosures filed this month with the Senate Office of Public Records. In some cases, these payments were made in honor of many members of Congress—not only those on the Super Committee.
The industries doing the giving include pharmaceutical, energy and defense—all of which have a big stake in the upcoming negotiations to slash at least $1.2 trillion from the country’s deficit.
On Aug. 6, days after a deal was struck to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and create the super committee, many company executives and lobbyists hit the links with one of the newly-named members: Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. Dozens of corporations, including many whose PACs back Clyburn's congressional campaigns, spent thousands of dollars to sponsor his 21st annual charity golf tournament—called the Rudolph Canzater Classic.
Among the highest-level sponsors—who all chipped in $20,000—was defense contractor Fluor Corp. a perennial Clyburn contributor to which Clyburn helped steer $1.6 billion in stimulus funds. The other top sponsors were the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, the industry’s main trade group, drug maker AstraZeneca, and the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America. All of these companies—except AstraZeneca—were listed as sponsors to last year’s tournament too. Defense, Medicare and Medicaid, and the home mortgage interest tax deduction could all potentially face cuts from the super committee.
To varying degrees, the donations—to lawmakers' charities, to nonprofits holding galas honoring lawmakers, paying for meetings or conferences held by lawmakers—are another way, other than lobbying and PAC donations, that corporations can attempt to sway lawmakers.
Clyburn spokeswoman Hope Derrick wrote in an email that the “[c]ongressman views his interactions with sponsors and attendees at the Canzater Classic as being no more or less than their visits to his office, interactions with him at Washington events or his visits to their offices and tours of their facilities.”
She added that, “Many of the corporations you mentioned have been coming to the event for years. This year’s event was held before he was named to the Super Committee.”
Cyburn's event drew just short of 600 golfers, according to Derrick, and the event raised about $400,000 for college scholarships for needy students.
In disclosures released so far this year, lobbyists and companies reported paying about $130,000 for the tournament, a number that will likely increase when more donations are reported early next year. That number does not include some of the biggest sponsors, Dell and Microsoft, who contributed over $200,000 in computers and software to students last year, nor many others that have been listed in the past two years. These corporate donations helped make him the third most honored lawmaker in 2009 and 2010, according to a Sunlight Foundation analysis.
Other Super Committee members
*During the committee’s negotiations, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., the chair of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, may be pushed to advocate for corporate tax reform, something championed by the Chamber of Commerce and lobbied on by IBM. The Chamber spent over $1,000 honoring Camp and a host of other lawmakers for an event in March, although the report does not say what the event was for. IBM contributed $10,000 to the pro-trade Emergency Committee for American Trade (ECAT) in March for an event presenting Camp and Jim Matheson, D-Utah, with awards.
*Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., also received plenty of accolades during the first half of the year. When he was honored by the Bryce Harlow Foundation, a nonprofit promoting ethics in lobbying, in April, Chevron, Marathon Oil, Shell, the American Petroleum Institute, were among the companies and organizations being generous. Tax breaks for oil companies are a potential target for the committee, Democrats have said. In all, lobbying companies and lobbyists shelled out about $72,000 for the Bryce Harlow award, according to 2011 disclosures.
Kyl also received the annual distinguished service award from the Nixon Center in March. Oil and gas giant Chevron gave $50,000 to the Nixon Center for the event and defense contractor Lockheed Martin pitched in $10,000, the companies disclosed.
*Two other panel members, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry, D-Mass., and former Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman, R-Ohio, shared an award this year, and Boeing and Chevron were top-level sponsors of the event; each company reported donating $7,500 to the Washington International Trade Foundation last month.
*Another panel member, Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus, D-Mont., received the National Parks Conservation Association's annual award—which cost the group about $173,000, reports show. Chevron shelled out $25,000 to sponsor the event.
Doctors and other health care interests also ponied up to award the Montanan. The American College of Physicians paid for a $139 plaque in April for the senator. AARP bought Baucus and other 2010 congressional award recipients plaques—at a cost of about $1,500.
In one case, the American Medical Group Association reported over $500 in meetings costs related to an event with Baucus. The senator booked a room for a briefing held by the group, according to the lobbyist filing.
*The co-chairs of the committee, Reps. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Patty Murray, D-Wash. have each received just one honorary contribution so far this year. Energy Future Holdings disclosed a $370 payment in honor of Hensarling; it’s unclear what the nature of the event was. Defense contractor SAIC donated $2,500 to Pets for Patriots in honor of Murray and a host of other lawmakers, the company reported.
However, lobbying companies did honor Murray with about $120,000 in donations in 2009 and 2010, according to a Sunlight Foundation analysis that divided the donation amount if it went towards honoring multiple people. These companies honoring Murray include Washington-based Boeing, Chevron, JPMorgan Chase, Pfizer, Oracle and Wal-Mart. Honorary gifts to Hensarling amounted to under $600.