K Street's investment in the status quo

Incumbent senators bank on lobbyists with agendas before them

By

 Updated:

When registered lobbyists dig into their wallets, incumbent senators almost always benefit.

More than 1,000 federally registered lobbyists have personally donated $2.76 million to the campaigns of U.S. senators seeking re-election this year, according to a Center for Public Integrity study of contributions from 1999 through September 2004. That represented 95 percent of lobbyist contributions in those 26 races; only 5 percent, $157,000, went to challengers.

This trend of registered lobbyists financially supporting incumbents is clear in states like Connecticut and Nevada, where Democratic incumbents Christopher Dodd and Harry Reid, respectively, each received around $190,000 from lobbyists, while their Republican challengers received no lobbyist contributions whatsoever. In fact, in more than half of this year’s 34 senatorial races, lobbyists gave nothing to challengers while giving an average of $95,000 to the incumbents in those states.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle, Democrat of South Dakota, received $260,000 from lobbyists, the most of any senator seeking re-election this year. Daschle was followed by Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) with $225,000; Dodd with $190,000; Reid with $188,000; and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) with $151,000.

One reason that these donations concern campaign finance experts is that they create the potential for apparent conflicts of interest. In fact, the Center found that lobbyists sometimes made personal contributions to the very lawmakers they sought to influence.

For instance, Senator Specter received $24,500 from lobbyists working for Blank Rome LLP. One of Blank Rome’s largest clients is FastShip Inc., which transports containers between the U.S. and Europe. In 2003, Blank Rome billed the company $160,000. At a press conference with FastShip executives earlier this year, Specter took credit for bills appropriating $40 million in federal funds to construct the company’s state-of-the-art marine cargo terminal at the Port of Philadelphia.

Similarly, Senator Daschle’s campaign received more money—$13,650—from lobbyists associated with Patton Boggs than from lobbyists at any other firm. Patton Boggs’ second largest client during the last six years was the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, which over that period paid the high-powered lobbying firm $5.8 million. One of ATLA’s top priorities was to ward off limits on awards in medical malpractice suits. In July 2003, Daschle spearheaded a successful effort to block such proposed limits.

The Center also found that lobbyists favored Democratic senatorial candidates by a two-to-one ratio, with about 850 of the nearly 25,000 registered lobbyists donating $2.3 million of their own money to Democrats and almost 600 of them contributing $1.2 million to Republicans. Of the 26 Senate incumbents running for re-election this year, 14 are Democrats and 12 are Republicans.

Lobbyists donated a total of $3.5 million to candidates in the 2004 senatorial elections, an average of $2,800 per contributor. Since 1999 these lobbyists—along with their colleagues—billed more than $3.3 billion, which accounts for more than 30 percent of all the reported federal lobbying during that time.

A similar study by the Center in May 2004 found that more than 1,300 registered lobbyists donated $1.8 million to President George W. Bush over the last six years, while 442 lobbyists contributed $520,000 to Senator John Kerry.

Lobbyists’ Money

Democrat

State

Republican

Lobbyists’ Money

$42,000

Tony Knowles

AK

Senator Lisa Murkowski

$71,000

$137,000

Senator Richard Shelby

AL

Wayne Sowell

$0

$122,000

Senator Blanche Lincoln

AR

Jim Holt

$0

$0

Stuart Marc Starky

AZ

Senator John McCain

$22,000

$85,000

Senator Barbara Boxer

CA

Bill Jones

$0

$33,000

Ken Salazar

CO

Peter Coors

$2,500

$190,000

Senator Christopher Dodd

CT

Jack Orchulli

$0

$6,000

Betty Castor

FL

Mel Martinez

$50,000

$2,500

Representative Denise L. Majette

GA

Representative John Isakson

$25,000

$73,000

Senator Daniel Inouye

HI

Cam Cavasso

$0

$0

Arthur A. Small

IA

Senator Charles Grassley

$127,000

$0

N/A

ID

Senator Michael Crapo

$29,000

$34,000

Barack Obama

IL

Alan Keyes

$0

$111,000

Senator Evan Bayh

IN

Marvin Bailey Scott

$0

$0

George H. Cook

KS

Senator Samuel Brownback

$12,000

$0

Frank Daniel Mongiardo

KY

Senator Jim Bunning

$61,000

$90,000

Chris John

LA

David Vitter

$15,000

$92,000

Senator Barbara Mikulski

MD

E. J. Pipkin

$1,000

$3,750

Nancy Farmer

MO

Senator Christopher Bond

$103,000

$93,000

Erskine B. Bowles

NC

Representative Richard Burr

$110,000

$147,000

Senator Byron L. Dorgan

ND

Mike G. Liffrig

$0

$0

Dorris R. Haddock

NH

Senator Judd Gregg

$85,000

$188,000

Senator Harry Reid

NV

Richard Ziser

$0

$137,000

Senator Charles E. Schumer

NY

Howard D. Mills

$0

$3,300

Representative Eric D. Fingerhut

OH

Senator George V. Voinovich

$49,000

$43,000

Brad R. Carson

OK

Thomas A. Coburn

$1,000

$67,000

Senator Ronald Wyden

OR

Al King

$0

$25,000

Joseph M. Hoeffel

PA

Senator Arlen Specter

$225,000

$11,000

Inez Moore Tenenbaum

SC

James W. Demint

$30,000

$259,000

Senator Thomas Daschle

SD

John Thune

$28,000

$0

R. Paul Van Dam

UT

Senator Robert Bennett

$47,000

$151,000

Senator Patrick Leahy

VT

Jack McMullen

$0

$132,000

Senator Patty Murray

WA

George R. Nethercutt

$53,000

$23,000

Senator Russell Feingold

WI

Tim Michels

$0

There are other candidates for the Senate in Louisiana, however Chris John and David Vitter are the only candidates that received lobbyists’ contributions.

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