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District's top lobbyists are top fundraisers, too

David Wilmot

Earlier this year, my Post colleague Dan Eggen showed how Capitol Hill lobbyists -- surprise, surprise -- play a major role in fundraising for the politicians they lobby.

Well, surprise, surprise -- the same thing happens in the John A. Wilson Building.

The Washington Business Journal's Michael Neibauer pored through the recently filed lobbying disclosure reports, and it comes as little surprise that the city's top earning lobbyists also play key roles in financing city political campaigns.

The No. 1 individual earner, lawyer David W. Wilmot (pictured), is both a prodigious fundraiser and is the lobbyist of choice for such high-powered interests as the pharmaceutical industry, the Hotel Association of Washington, Anheuser-Busch and Wal-Mart. He reported more than $150,000 in income for the first six months of 2010.

In addition to maximum donations to the campaigns of D.C. Council members David Catania, Mary Cheh, Jim Graham, and Phil Mendelson, Wilmot co-hosted a Georgetown fundraiser for Mayor Adrian Fenty in October; he also appeared on the host list for opponent Vincent Gray's kickoff fundraiser in April.

Another top city lobbyist, Doug Patton of Oldaker, Belair & Wittie, plays an even more crucial role this election cycle -- he's Vincent Gray campaign finance chairman, charged with somehow filling the mayoral challenger's coffers to compete with Fenty's millions.

"I know the halls," Patton told Neibauer to explain his lobbying success. "I know the people and I know the staff people. I've just kind of been here."

Putting a dollar figure on the influence that Wilmot, Patton, and others wield is difficult in this town. Under federal campaign regulations imposed in 2007, lobbyists are required to report "bundles" of $16,000 or more. Now, as Dan Eggen noted, "The process is riddled with loopholes, however: The reports do not identify the specific contributors whose donations were bundled, and under FEC rules some recipients don't have to file at all if they don't already keep track of bundlers."

But it's still a sight better than how the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance tracks bundling -- which is to say, not at all. Reporters and other interested in the intersection of money and policymaking are left to piece together how lobbyists give. For instance, If I'm lucky enough to get wind of a fundraiser, then I can compare the date of the fundraiser and the host roster to the names and dates on the reported checks. But that method is problematic at best.

Last week, WAMU-FM exposed another common bundling tactic -- companies, primarily in real estate, that use numerous subsidiary companies to give more to candidates than any one corporate entity may. Cheh, the council member who has oversight of campaign finance, has said she'd consider whether to regulate that practice. Perhaps lobbyist bundling should be part of the conversation, too.

File photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post

By Mike DeBonis  |  July 20, 2010; 9:30 AM ET
Categories:  DCision 2010 , The District  
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