Washington Entries

Landmark Decision: Citizens United and Washington

Capitol Hill is becoming increasingly affected by the Citizen's United ruling. (Photo: Catherine Cloutier)Slightly more than a year after going into effect, the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision is having a profound effect on national and local politics.

Citizens United — as it is commonly called — reversed the ban on corporate spending on political broadcasts and introduced the rather controversial notion that corporations should be treated the same as ordinary citizens under the First Amendment.

Alcohol bill splits industry, campaign contributions

The CARE Act will make it more difficult for lawsuits to challenge state alcohol regulations. (Credit: John Guenther)

Shoppers can buy just about anything online today with just a point and click, from a book to a pair of shoes to a camera. But buying a bottle of wine can be a little trickier.

That's because states, not the feds, have ultimate control over the sale of alcohol crossing their borders, unlike almost every other product. This allows states to prevent residents from buying that bottle of wine directly from an out-of-state seller.

A bill before Congress could strengthen states' hold on that power and make it harder for alcohol producers to break into new markets. The pending legislation has already reignited a fight between producers and wholesalers, whose business it is to distribute alcohol across the country and who represent one of the most powerful industry lobbies in Washington.

More Questions Than Answers One Year After Health Reform

One of many signs held high at a rally for health care reform in Seattle in May 2009. The Affordable Care Act had not passed yet. (seiuhealthcare775nw/Flickr)Health care is one of the most important issues for seniors. After all, older people tend to have more expensive illnesses, more pre-existing conditions, and often have to pay more for insurance. So it should come as no surprise that AARP, with more than half of its members under 65 and not yet eligible for Medicare, is one of the largest supporters of health care reform.

In 2009 the organization hired more than 50 lobbyists to push for the passage of the Affordable Care Act, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

The bill passed and was signed into law in March of last year. Those in Congress opposed to what they call ObamaCare immediately vowed to repeal it, but that's no longer the main concern for AARP.

Spotlight: Pro-Israel Lobby

View Full Size (Graphic: Madeleine Scinto)The pro-Israel lobby, which consists mostly of American Jews, works to secure U.S. support for the country's economic, political and military endeavors.

Although Israeli policy often clashes with the goals of its Arab neighbors, especially with those of the Palestinians, the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. confronts almost no opposition.

"There's really no comparison to be made between the number of organizations that we would consider to lobby on the pro-Israel side versus those that would be pro-Palestinian or otherwise," said Dave Levinthal, spokesperson for the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group that tracks money in American politics.

Since 1990 the Israel lobby has contributed $78 million to congressional incumbents and $94 million when including non-incumbents. The pro-Israel lobby ranks 40 in total campaign giving as compared to more than 80 other industries, reports the Center for Responsive Politics.

Most of the lobby's campaign contributions come from local political action committees and individuals who give to candidates favored by pro-Israel PACs.

Earmark Ban Makes Congressional Pork Hard to Track

Pork belly is still on the menu. (FotoosVanRobin/Flickr)Earlier this year House Republicans made good on their promise to ban earmarking, a practice which in many ways has become shorthand for wasteful government spending and shady politics.

"An earmark moratorium shows that elected officials are serious about restoring trust between the American people and those who are elected to represent them," House Speaker John Boehner said at the time.

Denied the use of their time-honored negotiating tool, however, legislators are beginning to exploit a loophole in the ban by turning to a far more obscure strategy to seek funding for their constituencies, one that is appropriately being referred to as "phonemarking."

Will Revolving Door Staffers Impact Planned Parenthood Funding?

(Ennuipoet/Flickr)With its federal funding already threatened and congressional budget negotiations still under way, Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides health care and abortions at reduced prices, faces an uncertain future.

The organization came under fire last month with a House budget proposal that would have withdrawn its federal funding. Although the Senate defeated the resolution on March 9, Congress may press forward with the issue in the next version of the budget.

"We've gained a lot of momentum. We expect that in whatever budget measure comes up next, defunding Planned Parenthood will be in it," said Wendy Wright, CEO of Concerned Women for America, a socially conservative organization that has been lobbying for federal defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Wright has at least one reason to be optimistic. Michael Schwartz, the former head of government relations at Concerned Women now serves as the chief of staff to Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. Although he hasn't yet taken sides in the current budget battle, Coburn is a staunch conservative who serves as one of the "Gang of Six," a group of Democratic and Republican senators who are involved in long-term budget negotiations. Coburn is also an influential Republican and member of the Senate Finance Committee who many Washington observers say has significant sway within his party leadership.

It's a Lobbyist's Life

There were 13,740 active, registered lobbyists in Washington in 2009 according to a study by the Center for Responsive Politics (Credit: John Guenther).

While Washington natives sipped their fancy cocktails and enjoyed the air-conditioning at the D.C. Coast Restaurant in downtown, veteran lobbyist Sam Johnson* answered a phone call from his 13-year-old son.

His son was asking for permission to attend a Friday night dance sponsored by their family's local church. Johnson granted it, and then hung up.

"I'm crazy to let him go," Johnson said with a laugh while drinking his first Manhattan. "You can just feel the teen hormones flying around at those things."

As a single dad of two kids, Johnson is used to accommodating his children's needs and demands. It's a funny role reversal, though, for a veteran lobbyist who asks Congressmen to support his own requests on almost a daily basis.

Yoder Quick To Get Down With Oil and Health Insurance

Rep. Kevin Yoder advocates for smaller government and less taxes. (Courtesy of Roll Call)Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., reports a net worth below zero, making him one of the poorest members of Congress, yet he still managed to score a prized seat on the Appropriations Committee.

How did he get that gig?

By Election Day in 2010, Yoder's fundraising total amounted to nearly $2 million, more than twice that of his opponent, Stephene Ann Moore. Moore's husband, Democrat Dennis Moore, had triggered the open seat race when he decided not to run for a seventh term.

Yoder won the seat, and while most representatives wait their turn for a spot on one of the most sought-after congressional committees, Yoder forged ahead by proving he knows how to get cash fast — particularly from big-bucks industries like pharmaceuticals and oil and gas.

Giving money to a campaign does not equal outright vote-buying, of course, but Yoder's agenda does appear to be closely in line with that of his biggest contributors.

Nuclear Energy Is Safe (Say Industry-Backed Legislators)

(Credit: John O Dyer/ Flickr)Despite the recent disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, the nuclear industry still enjoys plenty of support back home, with legislators in both houses of Congress insisting that U.S. power plants are safe.

But how much of that support is based on hard facts and how much on financial influence?

The nuclear industry as a whole has spent over $46 million on lobbying from 1998 through 2010, according to the Sunlight Foundation. Roughly $18 million of that has come from the industry's leading trade group, the Nuclear Energy Institute, which, in addition to lobbying the people who write the laws on energy, has given them money, employed their former and future staffers, and honored them with leadership awards.

"Because the [nuclear] industry has been so stagnant for so long...that creates a limited amount of knowledge in this particular field," said Allison Fisher of Public Citizen, a non-profit that opposes nuclear energy. "It's dwindling, and it creates even more opportunity for revolving door issues."

Lobbying: An Insider's Take

Howard Marlowe in his K Street Office (John Guenther)Howard Marlowe is a lobbyist's lobbyist. That is to say, he's the president of the American League of Lobbyists. For 27 years he has also been the head of Marlowe & Co., a small firm with only 10 employees and about 45 clients that caters mostly to city and county governments.

We recently sat down with Mr. Marlowe at his office on K Street in Washington, D.C. He speaks in a soft, gentle voice, with a subtle twang audible on words like 'client.' He says the twang comes from his wife, a Southerner (he's from upstate New York). He's got big teeth and art deco glasses, the kind you might see on the cover of an Ayn Rand novel. He was once a teacher and later legislative director for Senator Vance Hartke of Indiana.

Marlowe said he takes ethics very seriously — more seriously than most other lobbyists. And he's proud of his job, proud to have helped his clients get things built — like better beaches and sewage treatment plants. What follows is a peek into the world of lobbying in the words of a lobbyist.

Western Congressman Rides Again with a Lobbyist in His Posse

Rep. Steve Pearce, a former oil services company owner, drew in the most money from oil and gas companies as a House candidate in the 2010 election cycle. (Oil well photo - Bureau of Land Management; photo of Steve Pearce - Wikimedia Commons; gray wolf photo - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

House Rep. Steve Pearce rode a wave of national resentment and money from oil and gas companies to regain an office he vacated in 2008.

Now he's back, and he brought with him a former Washington insider and lobbyist who sought to roll back environmental legislation well before it was the hot new thing to do.

Money File: Koch Brothers and the Media

The now high-profile billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, are not only major funders of conservative causes and candidates but also exert significant influence over media outlets and public opinion generators.

In June of 2010, the Koch brothers, who together own the second largest privately held company in America, held a conference in Aspen to plot strategy for the November 2010 elections. The list of attendees was leaked, revealing some interesting ties the Koch brothers have to the mainstream media.

Industry-Backed Congressional Reps Target EPA

Much of the country is projected to become several degrees warmer if emissions trends continue. Graphic from U.S. Global Change Research Program.With the federal government looking for places to cut spending, Republicans in Congress seem increasingly intent on targeting climate legislation.

The GOP-controlled House just last week passed a budget that would, among other things, greatly limit the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gases.

And recently, Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) each introduced legislation that would tie the federal government's hands when it comes to carbon pollution, while Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the Republican chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced a companion bill shortly thereafter.

Perhaps it should be no surprise then that all three — Inhofe, Barrasso and Upton — received a large chunk of their campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.

California Freshman Congressman's Lobbyist Ties

U.S. Representative Jeff Denham, R-Calif.

Even before Jeff Denham was sworn into Congress in January with a promise to "stand up for the community," California's only Republican freshman U.S. representative began surrounding himself with former and current lobbyists from big money political campaigns.

Just after Denham was elected to Congress from California's 19th district in November, he created JEFF PAC and America's New Majority. The creation of JEFF PAC makes him one of only two freshman members of Congress to have already formed a leadership political action committee, or PAC, an organization used to raise money for election campaigns.

Federal Election Commission filings for the two PACs show they have already received contributions from interests that often lobby the very congressional committees Denham sits on — Natural Resources, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Veterans' Affairs.