While 2016 may be the year of the political outsider, Republican White House hopeful Marco Rubio is relying on a decidedly insider source for campaign money: lobbyists.
Rubio's presidential bid has benefited from lobbyists more than any other Republican still in the race, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of campaign finance data.
These lobbyists represent a range of interests, spanning from blue-chip companies such as AT&T, Goldman Sachs and 21st Century Fox to trade associations such as the Private Equity Growth Capital Council and Satellite Industry Association.
Rubio’s reliance on K Street money could be less of a boon than a burden during an election season in which insurgents such as real estate tycoon Donald Trump and firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas have so far won nearly every primary or caucus.
“Republican voters are turned off by the big money,” said John Pudner, the executive director of Take Back Our Republic, a conservative campaign finance reform organization.
Pudner, who previously served as Republican Rep. Dave Brat’s campaign manager, added that money from lobbyists is “becoming more and more of a liability” as voters are increasingly worried that “campaign contributions are traded for their tax dollars.”
Thus far, support from professional influencers hasn’t helped Rubio much. He trails badly in the delegate race, and he now faces a critical test in his home state of Florida, which hosts its primary Tuesday.
Lobbyists — who sometimes seek to leverage their connections and convert access into influence for clients — can boost a candidate's war chest in two ways.
First, they may directly donate to a campaign. They may also steer other donors toward a candidate, a fundraising practice called "bundling."
Because individuals are limited in how much they can directly donate to federal politicians, pooling donations together in “bundles” is one way people attempt to gain more clout.
Legislation passed in 2007 following the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal has required lobbyists to disclose information about their bundling activities. Campaigns are not required to disclose the names of bundlers who are not lobbyists.
Rubio, an incumbent U.S. senator from Florida whose campaign did not respond to requests for comment, has benefitted from lobbyists aiding him in both ways.