Campaign Finance and Political Influence by Bill Allison


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Bill Allison presents during the free business journalism workshop, "Follow the Money -- Tracking Companies' Influence on Politics."

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Campaign Finance and Political Influence by Bill Allison

  1. 1. Campaign Finance & Political Influence An overview
  2. 2. A Washington tale… —  Bank of America increased the interest rate on Bonnie Rushing’s credit card from 8 percent to 23 percent. —  Sen. Thomas Carper: “But let me just ask you -- put yourself in the shoes of the credit card company…”
  3. 3. —  And how do the credit card companies feel about Sen. Tom Carper?—  Rushing’s monthly interest bill went from about $150 to $674—  Small change to a U.S. Senator’s campaign committee…
  4. 4. Think of inputs and outputs
  5. 5. Happens at state level… —  You may recall Gov. Rick Perry —  Texas Tech fund rewarded donors —  They gave in $32K-$310K range —  They got millions back
  6. 6. …and at the local level —  Donors gave Kasim Reed campaign contributions —  Insiders raised money for Reed’s mayoral campaign —  Airport concessions awarded to… —  Big donors to Reed’s campaign —  Big fundraisers for Reed’s campaign
  7. 7. Multiple means to exert influence —  Hire former staffers as lobbyists —  Hire former lawmakers, councilmen, etc. —  Contribute to inaugural events —  Give money to lawmaker charities —  Give to super PACs —  Hire relatives of elected officials
  8. 8. Politicians have lots of pockets —  Campaigns —  Parties —  Leadership PACs —  Nonprofits —  Businesses & investments —  Super PACs —  Family members
  9. 9. Businesses can pick the pocket(s) —  Lots of places to look —  We’ll suggest some resources —  Not all this money can be traced —  Sometimes, you need sources
  10. 10. One thing to remember is that all ofthis is governed by rules —  Federal election law, lobbying disclosure, congressional ethics rules —  50 sets of state rules —  Some local jurisdictions have rules specific to them (sometimes dependent on state law)
  11. 11. —  In Colorado, corporate and labor donors are banned, except when they aren’t—  Colorado Springs is the largest home rule municipality in Colorado
  12. 12. Let’s look at the federal level—  (inflation adjusted) —  (not inflation adjusted) —  Up to $2,500 per election —  Up to $5,000 to a Political to a candidate, that is, Action Committee per year $2,500 for the primary, —  $10,000 to state, district & $2,500 for the general local party committee (for —  $30,800 to a national party use in federal elections, committee (RNC, DCCC, that is) (combined limit) etc.) —  Unlimited amount to super —  Up to $117,000 every two PAC for eligible U.S. donors years to PACs, parties, candidates…
  13. 13. …but potentially a lot more if they have a lot of friends—  Bundlers put together networks of donors, all of whom can write $500, $1,000 or $2,500 checks to campaigns—  They are important at all levels—  We find bundlers at presidential, congressional, state and probably local donors…
  14. 14. Unfortunately…—  While bundlers are bigger than ever…—  No requirement at federal level that they be disclosed—  You can always ask a campaign “who the finance committee is”—  But there’s no place to ask, “Is CEO of this company a bundler”—  Only one searchable (but limited) resource…
  15. 15. —  As part of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 —  Registered lobbyists must disclose the bundling of contributions they do for federal candidates —  Applies to individuals they bring to fundraisers, PACs they control or persuade to contribute —  All bundles over $16,200 are reported —  Data available at http:// fec/bundling
  16. 16. Easy to get around disclosure —  We see tons of invites like this one —  Hosts commit to raise money —  Vast majority don’t show up as bundlers —  Even when they’re lobbyists
  17. 17. What a business can do—  Form (and pay expenses of) a political action committee —  PACs can contribute $5,000 per election (i.e., primary, general) to a candidate; $15,000 to a national party committee; $5,000 to state, district or local parties per year; $5,000 to other PACs per year —  Funds must be “segregated” from other corporate money
  18. 18. Note this language…—  Where are corporations like ExxonMobil and Imperial Oil, and labor unions as well, making contributions?
  19. 19. Make donations to 501(c)’s
  20. 20. …and to Super PACs—  Mostly individual donors—  Few businesses show up—  But individuals run companies—  Have interests before government
  21. 21. Hire lobbyists —  Lobbyists get access —  Lobbyists are also contributors —  Federal disclosure at, —  State disclosure spread over 50 state websites
  22. 22. Lots of lobbyists do lots offundraising —  Party Time tracks fundraisers —  Lots of invitations list “hosts” —  Hosts can be PACs or lobbyists that pledge to raise money
  23. 23. Donate to inaugural committees —  All states have different rules —  Sometimes donors can give more —  Enron gave lots to Bush’s Texas inaugural —  501(c)4s most common vehicle —  Don’t have to disclose donors —  Check
  24. 24. Pay for junkets —  Not always easy to trace —  Disclosure for Congress, Executive Branch —  States, localities vary
  25. 25. Where do you get information?—  Federal —  Primary —  State — —  Primary —  House Clerk —  State election authorities —  Secretary of Senate —  State ethics commissions —  Secondary —  IRE has a resource for finding them — —  Secondary — — —  NICAR — —  NY Times —  Local —  Can be city clerk, state ethics commission, etc.
  26. 26. Some other things to check… —  Trip reports/junkets —  Personal financial disclosures —  Does the business you’re looking at have a charitable arm? —  Whom do they give money to? —  Do they sponsor things like charity golf games?
  27. 27. Some of the forms inMassachusetts (municipal)
  28. 28. Sources of information
  29. 29. —  Clunky —  Getting better —  Still not perfect —  Original source of data
  30. 30. Useful features—  Presidential election map —  Congressional election with ZIP-coded map with downloadable contributions files for every candidate
  31. 31. Easier resource:
  32. 32. Tons of data… —  Federal candidates 1987 to present —  PACs 1997 to present —  Lobbying 1998 to present —  Trips, financial disclosure and much more… —  You can buy custom slices of data from it
  33. 33. Lobbying
  34. 34. What you get
  35. 35. Drilling down
  36. 36. Easier resource
  37. 37. Takes information from forms andmakes it easier to use
  38. 38. State disclosures varyconsiderably—here’s Mass.
  39. 39. Issues, campaign contributionslisted on individual lobbyist pages
  40. 40. In Vermont, photo = issues
  41. 41.
  42. 42. Note all the different data sets —  State and federal campaign contributions —  Federal lobbying —  Federal regulatory matters —  Federal grants and contracts (also has earmarks) —  For top contractors, run-ins with federal government —  EPA fines —  Federal Advisory Committee info
  43. 43. All data can be searched and downloaded——  Download data in Excel format
  44. 44. On the federal level, regulations matter—  Companies comment on them—  Companies lobby on them—  Politicians rail against them
  45. 45. Influence Explorer tracksregulatory actions
  46. 46. Drill down to individual comments
  47. 47. State money
  48. 48. National Institute on Money in StatePolitics —  Like CRP, it codes contributions by industry —  Covers all 50 states —  It always runs a bit behind raw state disclosures
  49. 49. Some good resources fornavigating what’s available —  NIMSP also has a run down of all state laws on lobbying disclosure —  National Conference on State Legislatures has pages, too —  Groups that do a lot of lobbying, such as Assoc. Builders & Contractors, have lists & links too
  50. 50. Always happy to help steeryou to a resourceBill AllisonEditorial DirectorSunlight 202-742-1520 ext 224@bill_allison