The News Without Transparency: Members of Debt Panel Have Ties to Lobbyists

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The congressional debt committee, commonly referred to as the super committee, has been a popular topic in the news since it was created by the Budget Control Act of 2011. We have been tracking lobbyist ties and campaign contributions to members of the committee since August. The Washington Post published an interesting report in early September announcing that many of the super committee members had ties to lobbyists.

The Washington Post article uses GE as a case study to discuss the almost 100 registered lobbyists who are former employees of super committee members and are now “representing defense companies, health-care conglomerates, Wall Street banks and others with a vested interest in the outcome of the panel’s work.”

While this article involved some heavy duty investigative journalism, many of its major claims can be substantiated by publicly available data.

The article states that Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) “has employed more than a dozen currently registered lobbyists.” The Center for Responsive Politics’ “Revolving Door” tool allows investigators to search for individuals by former employee or by former employer. A search for “Murray, Patty” as “employment” returns 18 people who have formerly worked for the senator. Clicking on an individual record shows the individual’s former position as well as their new employer and title. Digging into the 18 people returned by the initial search gives us 16 former Murray staffers who may currently be working as lobbyists. (See the end of this post for a full breakdown of the 16.)

The article mentions revolvers associated with other members of the super committee as well. The same search technique described above will identify those revolvers identified:
  • Two dozen former staffers to Sen. Max Baucus, including three former chiefs of staff, now work as lobbyists.
  • Rep. Hensarling’s senior advisor is a former lobbyist. Two former aides to the congressman are also now employed as lobbyists.
  • Over a dozen of Sen. John F. Kerry’s former staffers are now employed as lobbyists.
  • A minimum of ten former aides to Sen. Jon Kyl now work as lobbyists.

The article states that, “At least eight GE lobbyists used to work for members of the supercommittee” could also be substantiated using this tool. A search for “General Electric” as “employment” returns 37 results, 17 of which are listed as current employees and once worked on the Hill .  Clicking on these records returns the individual’s employment history, which indicates whether he or she has worked for any of the 12 super committee members.

This search technique could also be used to obtain the results for when the article states that, “the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America employs lobbyists who previously worked for Murray, Baucus, Kerry and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.).” A search for “Pharma” returns a number of results, but not all are for the correct organizations. A look at these search results shows that CRP’s data uses the term “Pharmaceutical Rsrch & Mfrs of America” to refer to PhRMA. A search for this term returns 45 employees, many of whom are current employees who have previously worked on the hill. This example demonstrates the need to be careful and thorough when doing this type of research.

The article also notes that companies such as GE, “which has been awarded nearly $32 billion in federal contracts over the past decade,” may have a particularly strong interest in influencing the super committee. Our “Influence Explorer” tool has data regarding federal grants and contracts awarded, which is searchable by company, and of course free and easy to use. A simple search for “General Electric” returns a list of 75 grants and 1,663 contracts awarded to the company between 1999 and 2012. TransparencyData.com also has in-depth information on grants and loans as well as contracts, which can be downloaded in bulk format.

So there you have it. If you have the time and patience, you can replicate the Washington Post’s investigation using CRP data, Influence Explorer, and Transparency Data.

List of former Sen. Murray staffers that are now employed as lobbyists (from above):
  1. Douglas Clapp, a former Aide to Murray, now works as the director of Washington state’s Washington, DC office.
  2. Rick Desimone, Murray’s former Chief of Staff and former Vice Chair and Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is now an Executive Vice President at McBee Strategic Consulting.
  3. Carrie Desmond, a former Legislative Assistant to Murray, now works at Lockheed Martin’s Washington Operations organization.
  4. Christy Gullion, a former Northwestern Regional Director for Murray, now works as chief federal lobbyist for the University of Washington.
  5. Shay Michael Hancock, a former Legislative Assistant to Murray, is now a Senior Vice President at the lobbying firm Denny Miller Associates.
  6. James Jones, Murray’s former Speechwriter (as well as Sen. John Kerry’s former Communications Director), now works as a Manager of Integrated Communications at Exxon Mobil.
  7. Joy Langley, a former Legislative Assistant to Murray, now works as the Assistant Director of Government Affairs at J Street.
  8. Dale Learn, a former Senior Legislative Assistant to Murray, is now the President of Gordon Thomas Honeywell’s Governmental Affairs.
  9. Justin LeBlanc, former Senior Staffer to Murray, is now the President of LeBlanc Government Relations.
  10. Eric Masten, former Legislative Assistant to Murray, now works as a Public Policy Associate at the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.
  11. Ben Lee McMakin, former Legislative Director to Murray, is now the Managing Director of Government Issues at Van Ness Feldman.
  12. Heather Meade, former Deputy Scheduler/Assistant to the Chief of Staff for Murray, is now the Senior Manager at Washington Council Ernst & Young.
  13. Nate Potter, former LA to Murray, is now a Federal Affairs Consultant for Gordon Thomas Honeywell.
  14. Casey Sixkiller, former Policy Advisor to Murray, is now a Senior Advisor at SNR Denton’s Indian Law and Tribal Representation practice.
  15. Karen Waters, Murray’s former Deputy State Director, is now a Senior Vice President at Strategies 360.
  16. Todd Webster, Murray’s former Communications Director, launched his own strategic communications firm, Webster Strategies.

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“The News Without Transparency” shows you what the news would look like without public access to information. Laws and regulations that force the government to make the data it has publicly available are absolutely vital, along with services that take that raw data and make it easy for reporters to write sentences like the ones we’ve redacted in the piece above. If you have an article you’d like us to put through the redaction machine, please send us an email at mbuck@sunlightfoundation.com.

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