In early August, Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a member of the newly created congressional super committee, held his annual charity golf tournament, welcoming nearly 600 golfers to spend the weekend in Santee, South Carolina.
Prior to the tournament, the charity’s website posted a list of golfers signed up for the tournament, which raises money for college scholarships for needy students. Among those golfers, we identified 34 lobbyists, many of who represent companies with a stake in the decisions of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, a 12-lawmaker body tasked with trimming at least $1.2 trillion from the nation’s deficit.
Some of those lobbyists are particularly influential with Clyburn and the other Democrats on the committee, either through their prior work on Clyburn’s staff, their fundraising for him, or their position at top-notch firms. They will also have the chance to continue supporting him at any of the eight fundraisers Clyburn has planned for his campaign and leadership PAC this fall.
A Clyburn spokeswoman, Hope Derrick, wrote in an email that her boss’s “motivation is doing what is in the country’s best interest, not the best interest of lobbyists or contributors.”
She added that Rep. Clyburn “has clearly stated his priorities for achieving fairness through the process by utilizing a combination of job creation, spending cuts, and revenue raisers. He considers that nothing is off the table, and believes any specific programmatic proposals should be discussed directly with committee members during their negotiations."
One of the many lobbyists that is well positioned to make those proposals is Jaime Harrison, a young, “rising star of the Democratic party,” according to his Podesta Group bio, who worked for the South Carolina legislator from 2003 to 2008. That tenure included time as Clyburn’s floor director, one of his most senior aides, while he was Majority Whip.
Now Harrison represents companies in virtually every sector of the economy, including defense firms such as Boeing and General Dynamics—two of the four largest recipients of Pentagon contracts—and oil and gas giant BP. The contractors would be hurt if the committee cannot come to an agreement by Thanksgiving, triggering a cut of up to $600 billion to defense spending over 10 years. Oil industry lobbyists will be pressing committee members to preserve their special tax benefits.
Harrison also represents the National Association of Broadcasters, which also sent its lobbyist, Mike Mullen, to golf at the event and has sponsored the tournament for at least the past five years, NAB executive vice president Dennis Wharton said. The NAB will be lobbying the deficit panel against the Federal Communication Commission’s plan to auction off spectrum currently used by local broadcasters, Wharton said. But he maintained that the lobbying has nothing to do with donating to Clyburn’s charity and pointed out the Clyburn’s appointment came after the tournament.
Since leaving Clyburn’s office in late 2008, Harrison has contributed $3,400 to Clyburn's campaign, more than any other lobbyist identified on the list of golfers, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Employees of the prestigious Podesta Group were Clyburn’s fifth-largest source of campaign contributions in 2010, according to CRP.
Harrison, like many other lobbyists on the list of golfers, did not return an email asking about his relationship with the congressman and if he plans to lobby the super committee.
Of all the industries represented in Santee, the pharmaceutical industry may have made the biggest splash, with five companies snagging sponsorships worth at least $10,000. A dozen industry lobbyists, including Amgen’s Chaka Burgess, Jesse Price of Eli Lilly and Chris Porter of Novo Nordisk all planned to tie off. Burgess sits on the board of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation with Clyburn’s chief of staff, Yelberton Watkins, who also golfed at the charity event. Amgen was a $5,000 sponsor of the tournament, and its PAC was one of the many health care industry PACs that maxed-out with a $10,000 contributions to Clyburn’s campaign for the 2010 election.
All three companies are members of industry trade group PhRMA, a $20,000 tournament sponsor, which opposes a proposal to allow the government to negotiate with companies over Medicare prescription drug prices (known as Medicare Part D). Burgess has already been lobbying on the issue this year, filings show.
Another lobbyist on the list of golfers is Microsoft’s lead congressional advocate, Matt Gelman, one of The Hill newspaper’s top corporate lobbyists in 2009. Gelman briefly took a leave of absence to serve as a senior advisor to Clyburn in 2007. He contributed $500 to Clyburn’s campaign a decade ago, and $500 to his leadership PAC last year. A spokesperson for Microsoft declined to comment for this article.
At the tournament, Microsoft and Dell were the event’s top sponsors, donating software and laptops to students receiving scholarships. Last year, the value of those donations exceeded $200,000.
Two influential lobbyists for AT&T also golfed at the event. One is Clyburn’s cousin William Clyburn, who runs Clyburn Consulting, LLC, and was put on the same team as Watkins, Clyburn’s chief of staff, at the tournament. He also lobbies for the US Telecom Association and the American Public Transportation Association.
The other is in-house AT&T lobbyist Lyndon Boozer, who contributes to many Democratic candidates and hosts Washington, D.C. fundraisers for them. Boozer gave $500 to Clyburn’s campaign in 2008, according to the CRP.
Among D.C. lobbyists, Boozer is not alone in his support of both Clyburn’s charity and his re-election effort. Another lobbyist golfer, Jaime Pericola of the Seward Square Group, also helps Clyburn fundraise in Washington, he said, and has sent $1,000 to the Assistant Democratic Leader's campaign over the years.
“[Clyburn] provides real scholarships for kids in need. He is by far one of the best public servants I’ve seen in my time in Washington,” Pericola said.
Pericola said he is not sure how he will lobby the super committee.
“I think it’s kind of a wait and see attitude for most people to see how much they’re going to get done,” he said.
Harrison, Clyburn’s former lead aide, also helps his former boss raise campaign cash, according to a report in Roll Call. Last year, he sent out an e-mail to his K Street colleagues asking them to attend upcoming “Fundraisers with Jaime,” including Clyburn’s annual barbecue event.
Another D.C. insider who showers money on Democrats, Matthew Berzok, a partner at Ryan, McKinnon, et al, also golfed at the event. Berzok, who has donated $2,000 to Clyburn over the years, represents clients across many sectors, including many companies and associations who sponsored the golf event: the Association of American Railroads, Novo Nordisk and tobacco company Altria. He also represents the Edison Electric Institute, the main trade group representing electric utilities in Washington.