Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Lobbying Firm Closes, Earmarker Fundraising Plummets?

By Paul Kane

Ethics watchdogs have spent years trying to document the connection between campaign contributions and the billions of dollars a year that are earmarked to clients of well-connected lobbyists. But this week's fund-raising reports offer a rare glimpse into the other side of the equation: What happens if lobbyists disappear?

Three senior House Democrats revealed stunning drops in donations for the first quarter of 2009, following the shuttering of a lobbying firm that in previous election cycles helped steer millions of dollars in donations from its lobbyists and earmark-seeking clients to their political committees.

Reps. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.) and James Moran (D-Va.) took in 58 percent less in combined campaign contributions so far this year compared to the first quarter of 2007, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Examining just donations from individuals who gave more than $200 - a donor category that captures what most lobbyists and their clients contribute - the drop-off is even more severe.

The lawmakers took in just $185,000 from those individuals so far this year, a 76 percent drop from the combined haul of almost $760,000 from large-donor individuals in the corresponding period two years ago.

This lack of political cash is not a sign of electoral weakness, because all three are in safe, Democratic-leaning seats. But the lawmakers are all senior members of the House Appropriations Committee, with Murtha chairing the powerful defense subcommittee, on which the other two also serve. From that perch the trio has been particularly successful in raising money from lobbyists, especially the PMA Group, a firm founded 20 years ago by a former Defense Appropriations Committee staffer close to Murtha. Earlier this decade the firm hired top aides of both Visclosky and Moran.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, those lawmakers have been the largest recipients of donations from PMA lobbyists and their clients. In the 2008 election cycle Murtha alone took in $775,000 in PMA-linked donations for his reelection campaign and his political action committee.

The firm's clients have been highly successful at winning those narrow spending requests known as earmarks, usually one line item in one of the 12 annual spending bills that fund the federal government. In just one such bill - the 2008 spending plan for the Pentagon, overseen by Murtha - the PMA Group's clients took in $300 million worth of earmarks, according to a study by Congressional Quarterly and Taxpayers for Common Sense.

But PMA closed this spring after the FBI raided its offices last fall as part of its investigation into the firm's ties to Capitol Hill.

All three Democrats defend their earmarking as perfectly legitimate. However, reports about questionable donations from people with no obvious connection to the firm prompted Visclosky to conduct his own audit, donating money to the U.S. Treasury equaling the contributions he deemed improper.

The others rejected this approach. In a mid-February interview, Moran defended the PMA Group's founder, Paul Magliochetti, as "probably the most professional of all representatives of small defense firms."

"I don't know enough about what's motivating the FBI," he added.

Moran said Magliochetti was "a pro" because his position as a former staffer gave him acute knowledge of the need to get Pentagon approval of projects he was seeking funding for. If the Pentagon deemed the projects worthy, the subcommittee was likely to reward PMA's clients, Moran said. "We knew that when he asked for something it had already been vetted."

Now, Moran's own fundraising has dropped precipitously. In the first quarter of 2007 - the time during which earmark requests are due - Moran raised $138,000 from individuals giving him $200 or more.

Over the same timeframe this year, Moran took in just $31,100 from those individuals. From all donors Moran raised about half as much money as he did back in the first quarter of 2005, when Democrats were in the minority and he exercised not nearly as much clout.

Lobbyists still donated to Moran, and many more are likely to come in over the next 18 months. But gone from the receipts ledger for Moran - and Murtha and Visclosky - are dozens of contributions that used to pour in from PMA Group lobbyists and their clients.

By Paul Volpe  |  April 16, 2009; 1:46 PM ET
Categories:  Fundraising Circuit  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Kerry Will Not Vote on Brother's Nomination
Next: Today on the Hill

Comments

"What happens if lobbyists disappear?"

Congress actually pays attention to the needs of their constituents?

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | April 16, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Wait a minute. All three of these Congressmen are Democrats. I thought that only "Rethuglicans" were crooks?

You see, all you liberals living in la-la land, you are just as blind to corruption as the neocons are when the offenders are inconveniently Democrats.

Vote Third Party and throw out all the professional politicians in both parties! It is time for Americans to take back our government.

Posted by: hisroc | April 16, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

This is a bipartisan issue. Whatever party, the politicians in office, will be the ones receiving special attention from lobbying firms. I think we should prohibit elected office holders from becoming lobbyists for 10 years after they leave office. That would be a great start in minimizing their attraction and undue influence.

Posted by: SwingState | April 16, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Lobbying isn't all bad. If we "average" Americans would be so inspired to visit our Legislators on The Hill to express our concerns on issues important to us, we could lobby also. Instead, we have left the influence of Congressional leaders to big law and lobby firms. They took advantage because we were asleep at the wheel. Okay, so now the challenge, pick an issue close to your heart and visit your Congressional leaders.

Posted by: fairwinds1 | April 16, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

All lobbyists and influence-peddling law firms should be shorn of their Gucci shoes and made to ride back home on the bus. Good riddance. All Senators and Representatives need to set up a standardized web site where constituents have a genuine voice with the Congressmen they elected hearing what their voice says. Not some manufactured BS created by clever spin artists, who are for sale to the highest bidder. --- Next, we need to shut down so-called 'think tanks' that spout meaningless blather daily. Who pays their rent and dictates their agenda, anyway??? Its like a drug deal, follow the money.

Posted by: isenberg888 | April 16, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Lobbying isn't all bad. If we "average" Americans would be so inspired to visit our Legislators on The Hill to express our concerns on issues important to us, we could lobby also. Instead, we have left the influence of Congressional leaders to big law and lobby firms. They took advantage because we were asleep at the wheel. Okay, so now the challenge, pick an issue close to your heart and visit your Congressional leaders.

Posted by: fairwinds1 | April 16, 2009 4:46 PM

*******************************************

You have obviously never visited the offices of your Congressional delegation. I have. Unless you are there to drop off a large campaign contribution, don't expect to speak to anyone who doesn't have to answer their own phone.

Posted by: hisroc | April 16, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse

Possibly a strong argument for campaign finance reform; tramsparency and disclosure by all elected officials, regardless of party. I just read the report on Rep. Peter J. Visclosky and had not heard of him...but Jack Murtha! Tim Kane and the DNC better get busy with a strategy for election challenges in 2010. I wonder how these democratic stallworts will fare given the nations distain for political corruption and shady campaign contributions.

Posted by: remills | April 16, 2009 6:18 PM | Report abuse

YEAH...this is good news. It is time for campaign finance reform! Besides the fact that legislatures spend MOST of their time fundraising instead of working for the people, think of all the wasted money that could be used for the good instead of rotten campaign ads that support corporate media.

Posted by: drday16 | April 16, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

"What happens if lobbyists disappear?"

Lawmakers go on Sale.

They reduce their prices even further. How low can they go?

Very!

Posted by: cintronlourdes | April 16, 2009 7:11 PM | Report abuse

No real loss here. About time the crooks start having their lifeline constricted and for us to watch them wither. Campaign finance reform is definitely the next step, so we can get people in office who will help turn this nation around. We can maybe even focus on solving the deeper, systemic issues for why we're our country is in such a terrible situation. Obviously bad banking's a good place to start, but there are other issues, like global poverty, that have huge economic and geopolitical ramifications.

The Borgen Project (www.borgenproject.org) has some interesting insight into addressing the issues of global poverty, something we can remedy easily and sustainably.

Some interesting figures to ponder:
$30 billion USD: The annual shortfall to end global poverty.
$550 billion USD: The annual US defense budget.

Posted by: concernedcitizen1111 | April 17, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Fairwinds--

Do you think you can get an appointment to meet with a Representative (much less a Senator, holy of holys)unless you are a big donor?

And, how many of us can take a day or two off from work, and pay for a trip to DC, to try?

Of course, a lobbyist does not need to take a day off from work to go talk to a Senator--he is at work, getting paid (plenty) for it.

And, he is welcomed by the Congressperson--who has a list of which of the lobbyist's clients gave him money and how much.

You are very foolish--or intentionally lying.

True campaign finance reform--public finding of campaigns--is the only way to slow this down.

Why do incumbents nearly always win?
About half their staff, which we pay for, is not needed to do their job--but these are full-time campaign workers!

Wake up and smell the money!!

Posted by: mike252 | April 19, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Fairwinds--

Do you think you can get an appointment to meet with a Representative (much less a Senator, holy of holys) unless you are a big donor?

And, how many of us can take a day or two off from work, and pay for a trip to DC, to try?

Of course, a lobbyist does not need to take a day off from work to go talk to a Senator--he is at work, getting paid (plenty) for it.

And, he is welcomed by the Congressperson--who has a list of which of the lobbyist's clients gave him money and how much.

You are very foolish--or intentionally lying.

True campaign finance reform--public finding of campaigns--is the only way to slow this down.

Why do incumbents nearly always win?
About half their staff, which we pay for, is not needed to do their job--but these are full-time campaign workers!

Wake up and smell the money!!

Posted by: mike252 | April 19, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Fairwinds--

Do you think you can get an appointment to meet with a Representative (much less a Senator, holy of holys) unless you are a big donor?

And, how many of us can take a day or two off from work, and pay for a trip to DC, to try?

Of course, a lobbyist does not need to take a day off from work to go talk to a Senator--he is at work, getting paid (plenty) for it.

And, he is welcomed by the Congressperson--who has a list of which of the lobbyist's clients gave him money and how much.

You are very foolish--or intentionally lying.

True campaign finance reform--public finding of campaigns--is the only way to slow this down.

Why do incumbents nearly always win?
About half their staff, which we pay for, is not needed to do their job--but these are full-time campaign workers!

Wake up and smell the money!!

Posted by: mike252 | April 19, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

2010,2010. Stop and think, we can get rid of Nancy and Reid all we have to do is vote. Throw everyone out that voted for the Stimilus package. trillions of dollars in debt. where in the H@@@ is good old common sense, No one working means less money being paid to the government, government spends money like a drunken sailor. and we are supposed to end up in better shape. Obama won by 52%. 48% did not vote for him, just think if all 48% vote we will win, because remember a lot of those4 52% were picked up and bussed to the polls. Work hard this year for 2010.

Posted by: floridagirl2 | April 20, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company