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Northrop Grumman Lobbying: God Now Deeply Involved, Apparently

Jason Linkins   |   January 5, 2010    5:39 PM ET

If you're wondering why God hasn't yet saved the Constitution -- or bathed Tiger Woods in the redemptive light of religious ecstasy that he needs to be forgiven for his transgressions and thought of as a great American role model, instead of a needy cad who had sex with every woman he encountered -- maybe it's because God has gotten himself totally bogged down in small-bore defense contract lobbying!

That's the news from the Mobile, Alabama Press-Register, anyway, which finds God's emissaries engaged in intervening on the Lord's behalf over a contract for Northrop-Grumman.

Velma Jackson asked the council to start a weekly prayer meeting at noon Wednesdays in the atrium of Government Plaza.

"If you do this," she said, "you will be awarded the tanker contract you so diligently seek."

If Northrop Grumman and EADS win a U.S. Air Force refueling tanker contract, the planes would be assembled in Mobile, creating 1,500 local jobs.

But the tasty carrot was balanced with a sharp stick. If the city doesn't host the prayer meetings, Jackson said, "the water in the rivers will come up and flood the city."

"This is the word of the Lord," she said.

So there you have it. God is a lobbyist, now. Somebody tell Andy Partridge.

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Julian Hattem   |   January 4, 2010   11:32 AM ET

The upcoming weekend will be a big one for ski trip fundraisers. According to invitations received by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, three legislators are using the upcoming weekend as a chance to raise some money and hit the slopes.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) has invited potential campaign donors to a ski trip at the Sonnenalp Resort of Vail, Co., from Friday to Monday. In order to tag along contributors will need to shell out up to $5,000. DeGette has raised $213,223 for her 2010 reelection campaign so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) is also planning to be in Vail over the weekend for a fundraiser of his own. For the pleasure of his company donors will have to make contributions of $2,500 to add to the $458,321 he has already raised.

Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) is inviting contributors to come out to Park City, Utah, for a "Winter Weekend" that will cost from $2,000 to $5,000 to attend. Sen. Bennett has raised $2.72 mil for his upcoming campaign -- which is a relatively small amount, according to the Center for Responsive Politics: only four senators seeking reelection this year have raised less money.

The Cash Committee: How Wall Street Wins On The Hill

Ryan Grim and Arthur Delaney   |   December 29, 2009    3:00 PM ET

The question was simple: Should the lending practices of auto dealers be regulated?

It was already October and the 42 Democrats and 29 Republicans on the House Committee on Financial Services had spent the better part of the year hashing out the details of a new federal agency dedicated to protecting consumers from dangerous and deceptive financial products.

Auto dealers seemed like an obvious target for the new agency; nearly every time someone buys a car, the dealer also sells them an auto loan, complete with promises like zero per cent interest and a pile of cash back. Americans hold some $850 billion in car debt and dealers are responsible for marketing roughly four-fifths of that amount. They pocket lucrative commissions with little oversight, and the committee seemed poised to change that.

Enter Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), a former Saab dealer from Orange County, who according to his latest financial disclosure statement still collects rent from some of his former auto dealer colleagues. Campbell downplayed the importance of his industry partners and proposed an amendment to the bill exempting dealers from the new agency's purview. On October 22, it came up for a vote.

As usual, the members filed into the high-ceilinged first-floor hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building. Committee Chairman Barney Frank oversaw the vote atop four tiered rows of seats, a full story above the witnesses and the audience. The longest-serving Democratic members of the panel -- informally known as the banking committee -- sat to the right or just below the chairman; it can take years, if not decades, for a freshman representative to ascend up the risers.

The clerk called the roll, starting from the top. Senior Democrats roundly rejected Campbell's amendment. It appeared as if the Democrats would beat back the effort and apply the same standard to car dealers that was applied to everyone else.

Then came the bottom two rows, the place where reform goes to die. Despite the disapproval of the powerful chairman and nearly every consumer group in the country, the Campbell amendment passed by a 47-21 margin.


In the fall of 2008, Democrats took the White House and expanded their congressional majorities as America struggled through a financial collapse wrought by years of deregulation. The public was furious. It seemed as if the banks and institutions that dragged the economy to the brink of disaster -- and were subsequently rescued by taxpayer funds -- would finally be forced to change their ways.

But it's not happening. Financial regulation's long slog through Congress has left it riddled with loopholes, carved out at the request of the same industries that caused the mess in the first place. An outraged American public is proving no match for the mix of corporate money and influence that has been marshaled on behalf of the financial sector.

The banking committee is the second-largest in Congress -- the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has three more members -- and is known as a "money committee" because joining it makes fundraising, especially from donors with financial interests litigated by the panel, significantly easier.

The Democratic leadership chose to embrace this concept, setting up the committee as an ATM for vulnerable rookies. Eleven freshman representatives from conservative-leaning districts, designated as "frontline" members, have been given precious spots on the committee. They have individually raised an average of $1.09 million for their 2010 campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics; by contrast, the average House member has raised less than half of that amount.

Raising that much money, even with a golden seat on the committee, takes an awful lot of time. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) pushes members to do as much "call time" with potential donors as is physically possible from the moment they win election -- which doesn't leave much time for legislating.

"It creates a culture where people don't have to show up," says freshman Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) about the combination of the committee's size and the ever-pressing fundraising concerns. Speier, a freshman on the committee, says she began to think she was stupid for showing up to every single hearing when she first arrived on the Hill. "I don't know if it's just an unspoken rule around here -- because I'm still very new -- but it appears you don't have to show up for the hearing. You just show up to vote... I think for really thoughtful discussion and review to take place, you have to be an active participant. You can't just be the vehicle to whom one of the special interests throws an amendment with a statement attached and feel that you're doing the people's work."

Because the frontline members face the possible end of their careers in November and may be beholden to the whims of powerful donors, the Democrats' 13-seat advantage on the committee is weaker than it appears. If seven members break with the party on a vote, the GOP wins. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) refers to them as "the unreliable bottom row." (The second row is little better, populated by the Democrats from red-leaning areas who first took office after the 2006 election.)

In short, by setting up the committee as a place for shaky Democrats from red districts to pad their campaign coffers, leadership made a choice to prioritize fundraising over the passage of strong legislation. "It makes it difficult to corral consensus," says Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), a subcommittee chairman, of the unwieldy panel.

And just as the lure of money leads inexperienced new members to join the committee, it prompts experienced staffers to bolt for larger paydays in the private sector. "You have this phenomenon where if you have a staffer who's very experienced on a certain issue and is dealing with the financial sector for any number of months or years, all of a sudden they become a real acquisition target for Wall Street," says Lynch.

According to a HuffPost analysis of the 243 people who've worked on the committee -- including clerical and technology staff -- since 2000, almost half of the 126 people who have left registered as lobbyists, mostly for the financial services industry.

And recruiting experienced Capitol Hill hands to work on K Street pays off in material ways. For example, it didn't hurt the auto dealers' chances of winning an exemption that a third of the industry trade group's two dozen lobbyists are former Hill staffers.

Commercial banks, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, spent nearly $50 million lobbying in 2008 and dropped another $37 million in the first three quarters of 2009. They employed 417 federally-registered lobbyists.

And the revolving door turns in both directions. Sixteen of the committee's 86 current staffers -- including a good chunk of the senior staff -- worked as lobbyists before coming to the committee. (And it's not just Republicans; 12 of the 16 are Democrats.)

"The door doesn't just revolve once," says Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.). "They tend to go out and come back and go out again. It really does create a set of financial incentives, whether conscious or not."

Though Lynch laments the phenomenon of staffers fleeing to K Street, he's got nothing against the individuals who leave: "I don't begrudge any of these young people with huge student loans and some Wall Street firm wants to compensate them."

Frank blames staff compensation: "We underpay public officials. Particularly the staff. [Lawmakers] get a certain degree of non-monetary compensation -- psychic. You know, I get mentioned on 'Gossip Girl.'"

Staffers get a good look at how the other half lives; they rub elbows with lobbyists both at work (in meetings or even on extravagant field trips) and off the clock, during ritualistic happy hours. Those who attend know the unspoken rule: don't talk too much shop but bring plenty of business cards. The friendly social scene helps explain why there's not much condemnation from staffers for colleagues who leave for higher pay.

"Everyone comes here to stand up for something they believe in, and at some point they go downtown to make money, and at some point someone they worked for draws them back [to the Hill]," says a former staffer who works as a lobbyist. "It's the running joke: a staffer gets married, you better go downtown! Spots open and one of the committee staffers has a kid. They'll be moving downtown. Money is number one."


As the House leadership set up committees for the 111th Congress in early 2009, Frank pushed to shrink the size of his own panel in order to better meet the historic challenges presented by the financial collapse and bailout, say several members of the committee including Reps. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), Miller and Lynch. Instead, it got bigger. "He was obviously outvoted," quips Lynch. "Either that or he missed the meeting."

Frank doesn't conceal his distress at the size of his panel. "I had no part in setting up the committee. That was all the Speaker," Frank says when asked about the front-row frontliners. Then, without prompting, he adds: "It's also very large, which is a problem. We're the second-largest committee, but the transportation committee does not have ideological issues."

The size and makeup of the committee have been a challenge even for Frank, a chairman not lacking in confidence or energy. "It's been very hard work. The committee used to be a very good little committee, because it had the urban constituency. But it's become a somewhat more desirable committee for people," he says. "There are a large number of people who have marginal seats, and it obviously makes me have to work harder and is a constraint on what we can do. We start out with what I want to do, but what's relevant is what I can get a majority for."

The sheer size of the committee can sentence reform to death by a thousand cuts. Each member of the majority, no matter where he or she falls on the political spectrum, has political interests back home. If those interests are affected by the bill, they've got someone on the panel to carry their concerns about "unintended consequences" to the chairman.

Frank denies that the big banks control his committee members; he actually claims that the big banks' backing of legislation these days is so toxic that he doesn't want their public support. "Goldman [Sachs] has no influence down here. Bank of America doesn't. Bank of America was ready to support the consumer policeman," Frank says in an interview in his office, referring to the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). That support, he says, was politely declined.

There is some truth to Frank's point; groups like the auto dealers don't bring with them to Capitol Hill the public-relations baggage of Wall Street or Goldman Sachs. "The local auto dealers are very popular in their districts," Frank says. The more an interest group can make an issue district-specific and the more it can relate on an everyday level, Frank argues, the better it will do. "That's why the realtors always beat the bankers. The bankers sit and they go [Frank makes a dour face, leans back in his chair and tightly folds his arms, miming an aloof posture]. The realtors are out there joining the Kiwanis and sponsoring little league."

The same is true with John Deere, dairy farmers and other back-slapping boys from back home. But the big banks have figured this out, too -- and now they use precisely such groups to poke holes in the reform effort. Over the last year, they've drafted an army of credible little guys to walk the halls of Congress and push the interests of brokers, swaps traders and Wall Street bankers. And they've shown that they don't need big loopholes to slip trillions of dollars through.

"What's happening now is the pro-regulation forces are being out-grassroots-ed by the antis," Frank says. One member, he says, represented tons of title insurance companies. Another came from the headquarters of credit unions. A third's district is home to LexisNexis; another to Equifax. Each of those entities received special treatment because their representative sits on the committee -- and the more members on the committee, the more special treatment is needed. "I have not had a problem because of campaign contributions. The problem is democracy: it's people responding to people in their districts: community bankers, realtors, auto dealers, as I said, end users, insurance agents," says Frank.

A video of the vote on Campbell's amendment shows how the auto dealers won their victory. It's both serious and comical. After the senior committee members enter their no votes, the bottom two rows begin weighing in with yes after yes after yes -- followed by unanimous ayes from the GOP side.

Then, once it becomes clear that auto dealers are getting their way, those senior Democrats -- not wanting to get on the bad side of a powerful industry for a losing cause -- actually start switching their votes from no to yes.

As confusion spreads and more votes are changed, Frank tweaks his colleagues with a subtle dig. "Can I ask this? Would members please vote loudly, especially if you plan to vote differently than the clerk anticipates?" The chamber echoes with laughter.

Pretending that there is some mistake, several members ask the clerk how they were recorded before asking to switch their votes. After Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.), a senior New Dem and a subcommittee chairman, employs this technique, Frank puts a stop to it. "I would also say, at the same time, if you know how you're recorded, don't ask the clerk. Just change your vote," he says. This time, there is no laughter.

Later on, when the bill was on the House floor, Frank and Watt, a subcommittee chairman, tried to narrow the exemption but failed. The lopsided committee vote had sapped the strength of the opposition.

The scene of the unfolding vote demonstrates a few things at once: First, notice the size of the committee and the time it takes for everyone to vote. Then, watch the bottom two rows up-end the legislation. And see how difficult the committee is to control, even for as forceful a personality as chairman Frank:

It's in this environment that Frank is tasked with passing what he considers financial reform as historic as "what Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson did to control trusts, and what FDR did to control the stock market" -- a regulatory bulwark that stood firmly until it was disassembled in the '80s and '90s.


The general makeup of the committee dates back to January 2007, when Democrats reclaimed control of Congress. It was a different world than the one today -- before the global financial crisis of 2008.

"No one knew when this committee was appointed that the U.S. economy, the world economy would walk to the precipice, and therefore put the eyes of the world on that committee. Nobody could have foretold [that]," says Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).

As for the conservative sophomores on the committee: "No, you can't [kick them off]. I mean, you could, [but] it's not going to look good and probably going to hurt them," Cleaver says. "I mean, who wants to go home and explain why they were taken off the most active committee with the most significant legislation maybe in the last hundred years? That's not something I'd want to go home and explain."

Can the younger members go home and explain the legislation to begin with? Check out almost any committee hearing on C-SPAN 2, and those bottom two rows are typically empty, another example of the no-show culture that so surprised Jackie Speier. Just as over-involvement can slowly weaken legislation, under-involvement in the broader crafting of legislation results in members who don't understand what it is they're tackling -- though they might be able to repeat talking points from lobbyists. Over the summer, a senior Democrat on the committee, Maxine Waters of California, complained about committee members' closeness to bank lobbyists after freshman Blue Dog Suzanne Kosmas (Fla.) skipped a hearing on the financial crisis to attend a fundraiser with lobbyists from the financial industry.

"I understand they have almost hired a lobbyist for each one of us," Waters said, speaking after Speier in an almost completely empty hearing room. "I never expected that given the subprime meltdown and the number of foreclosures that we have that we would get that kind of opposition. How soon we forget. And I'm more concerned that there are members of Congress who are beginning to take on the arguments of the financial services industry about why a consumer financial agency is not necessary."

Then Waters chastised Kosmas for skipping out: "Even yesterday when we were engaged with consumer advocates, one member got up and left and went to a fundraiser with the banking community, in the middle of all that. Well, all I have to say is, I'm hopeful that our advocates will be stronger than ever and we will fight against this opposition."

The panel still muscled through some pretty tough legislation, argues Cleaver. "We've been able to get all the priorities of the administration through the committee in spite of some glaring handicaps, such as a large number of freshmen whose seats may not be safe," he says. "And if you look at the votes plural, you will see that on some rather key votes they actually vote against the administration's position."

The legislation's failure to tightly regulate the derivatives market, however, is a crippling weakness. And the frontliners take credit for that.

Democratic Rep. Jim Himes, a frontliner and a New Dem, knocked out moderate Republican Chris Shays in Connecticut in 2008. A former banker, Himes is already an influential member on the committee. "The list of [New Dem] principles for financial regulatory reform, I was intimately involved in that, because I co-chair the New Dem Financial Services task force with Melissa Bean," Himes says. Bean (D-Ill.), along with retiring Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kan.), is a New Dem ringleader on the committee.

Bank lobbyists looking for the seven votes needed to up-end legislation know where to start. Bean and 15 other New Dems have effective veto power on the committee and are sympathetic to their interests. According to its mission statement, the coalition, which was founded in the boom year 1997, is "committed to enacting policies that encourage economic growth, maintain U.S. competitiveness, meet the new challenges posed by globalization in the 21st century, and strengthen our standing in the world." Wall Street lobbyists usually warn that banking regulations will harm U.S. competitiveness and slow economic growth.

Six of the committee's New Dems are frontline freshmen. The panel is also home to seven Blue Dogs, another faction of business-friendly Democrats, three of whom are also New Dems. Two of the Blue Dogs are frontliners, including Rep. Walt Minnick, a freshman Democrat from Idaho who worked to beat back the pro-consumer finance authority in committee and pushed an amendment on the House floor that would have gutted it. Both efforts failed, but Minnick was nonetheless singled out for praise by the American Bankers Association in a post-vote memo.

Some of the Blue Dogs and New Dems describe their experience working as bankers as an advantage. "I worked in the industry for many years, and so it's been very exciting for me to probably play a more engaged role than a new member ordinarily would," says Hines. "Scott Murphy and I and two or three others really drove the creation of the derivatives bill. Nobody understands it, but it's one of the more important aspects of the regulatory reform. And looking at it as a former businessperson, I think we've really struck a good compromise. I don't think the bill is in any way heavy-handed."

Murphy (D-N.Y.) is a former venture capitalist who won a special election to replace Kirsten Gillibrand when she went to the Senate. A Blue Dog, Murphy isn't on the committee, but on the House floor he punched a gaping hole in the derivatives portion of the bill -- which was already riddled with gaps -- exempting all sorts of swaps-trading from regulation and effectively undermining the legislation. Trillions of dollars of derivatives, which Warren Buffet has called "financial weapons of mass destruction," are traded in "dark pools" that nearly brought down the global financial system in 2008. Thanks to the frontliners, many of these pools remain unregulated in the House reform bill.

Brad Miller has had his share of battles with the bottom two rows. Many of "the Blues and News," as he calls them, are hamstrung by a "dependence on contributions from the industry. That traditionally has been one of the reasons to get on the committee. It was seen as a money committee."


Staffers and members of Congress who deal with lobbyists know that, if they play nicely, there will be career opportunities to come.

"Traditionally, the money committees as a whole have always been the most valuable places to jump from the Hill to K Street," says Ivan Adler, a headhunter at the McCormick Group. "Money committees" also include the tax-policy-writing Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee. "Folks that are working on financial services and taxes are more valuable, no doubt."

K Street's paychecks flow to both parties. HuffPost compiled a list of committee staffers throughout the decade from and cross-referenced their names with lobbying disclosure reports filed with Congress. Of the 126 people who have left the financial services committee since the end of 2000, lobbying disclosure forms show that 62 have registered as lobbyists at some point. That doesn't even include people who did not register as lobbyists but who nevertheless worked for law firms with lobbying departments.

Committee spokesman Steve Adamske, relying on information provided by personnel staff, identified the Democrats on the list that HuffPost showed to him. Of the 104 Democratic staffers, both current and former, 31 have been registered to lobby. Of a total 149 GOP staffers, 53 have registered to lobby, roughly the same percentage of total staff as the opposition. (The GOP has more total staffers over the time period in question because it controlled the committee until the 2006 elections. Frank became the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee in 2003; he became chairman in 2007.)

Staffers who go on to lobby are forbidden for one year from directly lobbying the committee they left. Adamske says that when staffers return from downtown to the committee, they are barred from working on the issue they lobbied on for one to two years, depending on the circumstances.

HuffPost was able to speak with a dozen of the 62 staffers who left the committee to become lobbyists; only a handful were willing to speak on the record while others spoke on background or off the record. Several say they left their jobs after being recruited by downtown firms. It's a process that Joe Ventrone, a former Republican deputy staff director for the committee, calls "cashing out."

"Cashing out is using your position to get a significantly greater salary in the private sector," says Ventrone, who now works for the National Association of Realtors. He says there's nothing wrong with leaving the Hill for K Street but he argues that, on the Hill, perception is reality; that if it looks like staffers sell their souls when they take jobs lobbying their former colleagues on behalf of industry, it's because they do.

Ventrone lobbies for realtors, but he says that he never contacts former colleagues in Congress. ("I didn't cash out like a lot of the other people on the Hill," he says.) He left the committee in 2001 to work for the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Bush transition, then for the Federal Housing Finance Board. The realtors hired him in 2003 and he registered as a lobbyist in 2008.

For staffers leaving a committee job, a higher-paying position downtown is "a very logical progression," says former committee lawyer Howard Menell, who is currently retired. "They knew the people, they knew the laws, and that's what they did." Menell's only lobbying client after he left the committee was the National Multi Housing Council. He says he never contacted former colleagues and only did work that would help low-income housing. "I think I'm different because I particularly did not want to lobby on the issues that I worked on for so many years."

The lobbyists insist they don't fit the Jack Abramoff caricature of the profession painted by the media; they don't capitalize on their connections to pervert the legislative process on behalf of big-money clients.

In reality, lobbying is more boring: lobbyists visit the Hill for meetings with members and staffers to explain how proposed legislation might have "unintended consequences" that could hurt an industry. Or, lobbyists might be invited to make a large campaign contribution and share concerns with members over a meal. Opportunities to attend such events abound -- almost any member of Congress is available for breakfast, lunch, or dinner at some point during the week. And anyone is welcome so long as she or he brings a big fat check.

On Sept. 10, for instance, you could catch all 11 banking committee frontliners for breakfast at the D.C. headquarters of the Credit Union National Association, which over the years has employed at least two committee staffers as lobbyists. The price of admission was a donation to the DCCC ranging from $1,000 to $20,000, according to an invitation obtained by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation. The event was well timed -- the committee was just preparing to mark up its regulatory reform bill. Frank himself was billed as a special guest.

From the point of view of lobbyists, their work is just a matter of providing information and then telling clients where they stand in the legislative process. There is no incentive to provide bogus information to sway legislation. "If you lead them down a path that gets them burned, you're gone," says a former Republican staffer. "It's not in my best interest to tell a member if something's true that isn't."

But there's little doubt that former committee staffers use their familiarity to smooth the process. "All of them will come in and say they used to be you. 'I know what you're going through,'" recalls a staffer who left the committee for non-lobbying work. "They try to be real friendly."

When talking to reporters, lobbyists generally laugh at the idea that they have to power to shape legislation, despite such feats as the exemption of auto dealers from the purview of the CFPA. And it's true that they're mere middlemen. But then again, banks and other financial interests can afford an army of aggressive and well-connected middlemen, while consumers groups are left with one or two sentries to cover two chambers. It can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Sometimes, the notion that one lobbyist can be a negative influence is taken seriously. Michael Paese served as a lawyer and deputy staffer director for the committee until 2008, when he jumped ship and wound up lobbying for the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association. Goldman Sachs scooped him up over this past summer. In an unusual move in September, Frank forbade his staff from talking to Paese for an additional year after his official 12-month "cooling off" period expired. Frank calls the suggestion that Paese might have been carrying water for potential future employers while still on Hill "paranoia."

Hill staffers who work on financial issues are particularly susceptible to lobbyists because, while they may be among the brightest to come through their college class, they often don't know all that much about finance. "They're stretched too thin, covering three or four issue areas," says a former staffer. And on the Hill, "issue area" doesn't mean bond markets or derivatives. "Financial services" is an issue; "health care" is another; "trade" and "education" could be two more, all covered by the same staffer.

"What they know is people," says a former staffer, "and the way you get to know these people is through happy hours or the [free] receptions" on the Hill, often sponsored by trade associations. Because staffers aren't always deeply versed in the particular issue they've been lobbied on, their advice to their bosses often reflects what they're hearing from K Street.

Frank is sometimes able to overcome that influence by going around the staffer. "The staffer is usually pushing something he heard from a lobbyist. If you can get the staffer and the member split up, you can usually get the member to agree to something," says a former staffer. He recalls a time when staff persuaded Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) to demand certain concessions from Frank; during the meeting, Green went out in the hallway to take a phone call; Frank met him out there and got him to change his vote.


Menell and others claim that nobody used to bat an eye when staffers went to K Street and back. It was all part of the pro-Wall Street consensus that developed during the boom years. By contrast, the new climate is creating tensions on the committee. When the financial system collapsed last fall, the bipartisan consensus on Wall Street came down with it. Amid populist fury, banking regulation has become more partisan. Some current staffers now say the hopping back and forth between competing sides should be seen for what it is: betrayal.

"You couldn't pay me enough to go be the spokesman for things like exploding mortgages, 39 dollar overdraft fees and double-cycle billing. These things might not have been 'party issues' a few years ago, but they very much are today," says a staffer.

Of the 16 people on the committee payroll who previously worked as lobbyists, former clients include H&R Block, the New York Stock Exchange, the Bond Market Association, Wachovia, MetLife and Experian. One staffer lobbied on behalf of the National Employment Lawyers Association, yet no staffers have done lobbying gigs with consumer advocacy groups like the Consumer Federation of America, Public Citizen or U.S. PIRG.

At least five are serving the committee for their second time. Committee lawyer Clinton Columbus Jones, for instance, worked for the committee for years before leaving to lobby for Fannie Mae in 2007. He returned to the committee in 2008, just before the Federal Housing Finance Board took the home-loan giant into receivership. Lawyer Jason Todd Spence served as a legislative aide to Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) before a brief lobbying stint with the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America; he returned to the committee in 2008.

"Sometimes you're puzzled at what causes that," says Rep. Lynch. "Is that the downsizing on Wall Street or is that a directional intent there, that staffers are coming back to carry water for a certain perspective? You have to be careful with that."

Mel Watt says he's seen how staffers with K Street backgrounds can be a boon to the committee. He also says he's seen it cut both ways. "If you get too connected to somebody and you start carrying their water, it can be a problem whether you're a member or a staffer," he says. "On the one or two occasions where I've experienced it, I called it to Barney's attention." A third member, who asked not to be named, says he had also seen particular staffers undermining reform legislation before heading off to K Street.

The chairman, however, says he is not concerned about staffers carrying water for past or future clients and employers. "What we have sought to achieve in our staff is a good diverse group of people who have different backgrounds and can bring different things to the table," says committee spokesman Steve Adamske. "At the end of the day, it is Barney's decision what the committee will be doing and it's the members who will vote on it."


"Don't make yourself crazy with conspiracy theories," Rep. Rosa DeLauro tells HuffPost. A senior Democrat from Connecticut, DeLauro is co-chair of the Steering and Policy Committee; in that capacity, she decides which members get placed on which committees, with the approval the House Speaker. (The Speaker's office declined to comment.) DeLauro says that when she makes placement decisions, she isn't thinking of fundraising but rather is simply responding to requests made by members.

"I've been through this where everybody coming in wanted [the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee]. People coming in want Financial Services. There's a host of people who want Foreign Relations. It depends on themselves, their district, their own situation. If you go down that road, you're going to make yourself crazy," she says of the fundraising theory.

Ultimately, though, Democrats are essentially relying on a "great man" strategy, figuring they can dump as many bank-friendly Democrats on the committee as they want and Frank will generally keep them in line. "We have a lot of faith in Barney. He can handle it," says a senior Democratic aide when asked about the phenomenon. Frank's senior staffers, say several current and former committee aides, similarly outmatch their counterparts. The chairman, they say, is able to use the knowledge gap at both the member and the staff level to his advantage.

"The good news is that we have, in my opinion, the most extraordinarily competent chair of that committee in place. He knows his subject, he's one terrifically smart pol, and he has a lot of self-confidence, to say the least," says Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

"It is an enormous committee, and that makes it difficult for anyone to do major legislating. And I would say that Frank has done a pretty significant task of legislating with such a challenging and diverse committee that's so large," says Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), a committee member.

Hoyer says it's natural that business-friendly Democrats would seek out the committee. "The business community is very focused on the Financial Service Committee -- the banking community, brokers. So it's not surprising that more moderate Democrats, more business-focused Democrats, would want to go on the committee which deals with issues they legitimately believe have to do with the growth of the economy, creation of jobs and the growth of business. I think that the Financial Services Committee is a pretty representative committee."

Sure, he says, you could pack the committee with unreconstructed New Dealers, but you've still got to get the bill off the House floor. And then, of course, there's the Senate. "Now, you could create a committee of all right or all left, and they could report out all right or all left stuff, and you get to the floor, and you have chaos," he says. "When you get to the floor, what you get is this conflict and confrontation of the people who were shut out, who represent a broader spectrum. The glory of the Democratic Party in my opinion in the House of Representatives today is it, in fact, is a representative party of the country at large. The Republican Party's not. And I think that's good news."

The House floor is indeed a treacherous place for reform legislation, with 67 New Dems looking to take a shot at it. But making it through committee gives legislation a head start. The auto dealers, for instance, would have had a very hard time winning their concession on the House floor, because the Speaker could have simply prevented Campbell from offering his amendment.


But the difficulty of corralling the conservative Democrats, the valuable spots they take up on the committee that could otherwise go to a moderate or progressive and the expensive campaigns they require to stay in office call into question the strategy that got them elected. The party's argument is that it is these marginal Democrats who give it the majority it needs to govern. But in seeking to craft its majority, the DCCC pays no attention to how those candidates will behave once in office.

One freshman, Alabama's Parker Griffith, after getting roughly $1.5 million from the DCCC in 2008 and 2009, returned the favor by voting against every Democratic priority and then bolting for the Republican Party. The bottom two rows of the banking committee have been filled at a price of tens of millions of dollars. That money could have instead boosted the campaigns of progressives such as Bill Hedrick, Dan Seals or Bill Durston -- all of whom lost tight races; none of whom would have voted with Wall Street.

Progressive congressional candidate Darcy Burner who, despite heavy backing from the DCCC lost a squeaker in Washington State in 2008, says the campaign strategy has a more insidious influence.

"The D-triple-C as an institution is much more inclined toward Blue Dog candidates than progressives and that's a self-fulfilling prophecy. They pick candidates who might be perfectly progressive and teach people to be less progressive. You really have to buck them to stay progressive," she says, citing her own experience and several candidates who gradually became more conservative under DCCC guidance. "Once you say that stuff to voters, you're expected to follow through."

("Members are encouraged to represent their districts," says DCCC spokeswoman Jen Crider.)

But is it all that pragmatic? Waffling centrists can have a hard time holding on to their seats -- especially when a populist wave comes washing over, wiping out pandering politicians. And by pushing for Washington to go soft on Wall Street, the frontline Democrats -- and the leadership that put them there -- have helped create the very storm that could carry them away.

Regardless of the loopholes they may have punched through the financial regulations, the vulnerable Democrats on the committee who routinely voted with the banks are sure to be labeled as proto-socialists by the GOP in 2010.

Committee Republican McHenry says that the Democrats will be hit for fostering a bailout culture and for over-regulating small businesses. And many of the Democrats will be ill-equipped to defend themselves because they don't show up for hearings and don't understand the financial system. "A number of these things very much run counter to what the American people want, and it's very difficult for them to explain the legislation because they don't understand it themselves," he says.

The only frontline Democrat on the committee to consistently oppose the banks has been Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.). The Washington consensus is that his strong stance represents a huge risk in his swing district of Orlando. Yet Grayson does not yet have a credible opponent. Many of the centrist and conservative frontliners wish they could say the same.

Stronger progressives, says Burner, might have been in a better position to hold the seats. "They tend to hold on pretty well," Burner says. "One could argue that it's smart politics to actually have values."

Laura Bassett, Jeff Muskus and Elyse Siegel contributed to this report.

UPDATE: Steve Adamske sends in the following letter in response to this story:

We do have people who come to work for the committee who are not ex-bank lobbyists. One example of this is our Senior Economist, Dave Smith, who was the former chief economist of the AFL-CIO, and a long time staffer and friend to Senator Kennedy. We also have a whole housing team, who has pretty much dedicated their careers to the interest of public housing and affordable housing (mostly different types of rental housing). I also don't want to discount the dedicated government career staffers, such as my staff director and myself, who have not "cashed out"--although we have had many opportunities to do so--in order to stay in the government and work to better protect consumers and build affordable rental housing. In fact, the last private sector job I had was in 1986. This is not to say we don't have people on our staff that are from industry. We do, as you and I discussed. And it is through this diversity of backgrounds that we have the mix of experience and passion to help the chairman accomplish his goals.

Steve Adamske
Communications Director
House Committee on Financial Services
January 25, 2010

David Simon On Health Care Bill: "Only One Thing Can Make People This Stupid, And That's Money"

Jason Linkins   |   December 28, 2009   12:55 PM ET

The most recent issue of Vice Magazine features an interview with David Simon, who unpacks at length on the television show he's best known for creating, The Wire. Along the way, Simon -- almost as an aside -- hits the recent reform debates in Congress with a blast of truth:

Why does reform seem so impossible?

We live in an oligarchy. The mother's milk of American politics is money, and the reason they can't reform financing, the reason that we can't have public funding of elections rather than private donations, the reason that K Street is K Street in Washington, is to make sure that no popular sentiment survives. You're witnessing it now with health care, with the marginalization of any effort to rationally incorporate all Americans under a national banner that says, "We're in this together."

But then the critics of a system like that immediately cry socialism.
And of course it's socialism. These ignorant motherfuckers. What do they think group insurance is, other than socialism? Just the idea of buying group insurance! If socialism is a taint that you cannot abide by, then, goddamn it, you shouldn't be in any group insurance policy. You should just go out and pay the fucking doctors because when you get 100,000 people together as part of anything, from a union to the AARP, and you say, "Because we have this group actuarially, more of us are going to be healthier than not and therefore we'll be able to carry forward the idea of group insurance and everybody will have an affordable plan..." That's fuckin' socialism. That's nothing but socialism.

It is, literally.
So the whole idea of group insurance, which of course everyone believes in, like that fellow on YouTube, "Don't let the government take away my Medicare..." You look at that and you think there's only one thing that can make people this stupid, and that's money. When you pay people to change their votes on the basis of money, the wrong shit gets voted for. That's American democracy at this point. And you get to the Senate and you're looking at 100 votes, which don't represent anything in terms of popular representation. When 40 percent of the population controls 60 percent of the votes in the higher house of a bicameral legislature, it's an oligarchy.

Simon goes on to comment on Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), saying, "Let me understand this: One guy from a small state in New England is going to decide on a singular basis what's good for the health care of 300 million people? That's our form of government, and I don't get it."

It seems a simple enough story to tell: health care reform is shaping up to be what it is because the health care industry is spending a surreal amount of money to influence votes. But you can watch television news for weeks without hearing about lobbyists or influence peddling, and most of the newspaper articles I read on the matter treat "K Street" as some sort of fascinating and frothy anthropological segment of "Beltway culture," rather than the thing the primarily drives legislative decisions.

The press will tell you that lawmakers like Joe Lieberman and Max Baucus and Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu are obstacles to health care because their votes are centrist ones. This is wrong. They are obstacles to health care because their votes have been bought. If supporters of the "public option" could unite as an industry and provide these lawmakers with the money to get re-elected, the public option would become "centrist" so fast that you'd have a goddamned stroke.

Interview With David Simon [Vice Magazine]
For more from Vice's Fiction 2009 Issue, click here.

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Evan Bayh's Wife Reaping The Benefits Of Health Care Reform

Jason Linkins   |   December 22, 2009    2:43 PM ET

Stephen Colbert once remarked, "There are some things that everybody knows, but nobody says."

He was referring to something that I've endeavored to point out as the debate over health care reform has taken shape: namely, the fact that many of the lawmakers who have curbed the effort for effective health care reform are clearly acting against the authentic wishes of their constituents in favor of personal enrichment and the promise of swollen campaign war-chests, courtesy of powerful, moneyed interests.

Those interests are reaping the rewards of having their demands met. And, amid the exploding profits that the health insurance industry is enjoying as a bill that would eliminate market competition wends its way through the legislative process, Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald zooms in on one example of how this disconnected decision-making process manifests itself, to our detriment:

Just to put this boon to health insurance stocks in perspective: according [to] an Indianapolis Star article from June, Evan Bayh's wife, Susan, "owns from $500,001 to $1 million in employee stock in WellPoint, the Indianapolis-based insurance giant on whose board she sits." That would mean that the value of her personal holdings in that one health insurance company alone, in the last six weeks alone (since [Senator Joseph] Lieberman and her husband began menacing the public option), would have increased by a value of between $125,000 and $250,000. As part of the bonanza of health care industry board positions she magically received since her husband became a Senator, Susan Bayh is given a quarter-million dollars each year in stocks and stock options from Wellpoint. That's just a microcosm for considering how well Obama's so-called "special interests" have done as a result of this health care bill.

This is the divinity that shapes our ends, and I can promise you, it will go largely unremarked upon by your media.

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Fred Schulte and Emma Schwartz   |   December 15, 2009    4:27 PM ET

In the government's campaign to bring medical care into the digital age, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has served as a key advisor to President Obama and a consultant to the health-care industry--doing both within the space of a few months.

Daschle, as Obama's first choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services last year, was a forceful advocate for using billions of dollars in economic stimulus money to help doctors and hospitals buy electronic medical records systems.

Tax problems led him to withdraw his name from consideration for the cabinet post. Then, a few weeks after Obama signed off on a stimulus plan that provided some $45 billion for digitizing the health system, Daschle began assisting private clients seeking to profit from the new law.

Daschle helped set up a new health information technology group at Alston & Bird--the Washington law firm that employed him until last month. The group was formed to help clients "maximize their benefit from business opportunities" arising from the stimulus spending, according to the firm.

He also has served on the advisory board of a General Electric subsidiary that is offering interest-free loans to doctors and hospitals in rural areas that agree to buy GE digital medical records software. No payments are due on the loans until the government hands out stimulus checks to the buyers.

Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, has not held a government post since he lost a re-election bid in 2004 and he is not a registered lobbyist, so no ethics rules restrict his business contacts. But his activities as an advisor to public and private interests in health care have drawn criticism, including from Republicans and some government watchdog groups. That scrutiny intensified after Daschle turned up at a private meeting on Nov. 30 in the office of Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev.), where top Senate and White House officials had huddled to hash out details of health reform legislation.

When informed of Daschle's association with the Alston & Bird task force by the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, some public interest groups said they believed it presented new ethical concerns. "He was in a position to drive public policy and develop connections within HHS that could provide his clients with an unfair competitive advantage in receiving taxpayer dollars, at the same time he and his firm benefits from his previous activities," said Scott Amey, a lawyer with the Project on Government Oversight.

Steve Ellis, vice-president of the non-partisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, said of Daschle: "Everyone in Washington knows he has the ear of the president."

Daschle did not respond to requests for comment. The White House, which also declined to comment, has said previously that Daschle is an expert on health care who understands Congress and that the president values his advice and friendship.

Like many health policy analysts, Daschle has long favored switching from paper to electronic medical records. On Dec. 11, 2008, the same day Obama announced his nomination to head Health and Human Services, Daschle made a presentation to the president-elect and his team that outlined the benefits of using economic stimulus funds to give doctors and hospitals an incentive to make the conversion, according to a report by The Washington Post.

While awaiting confirmation, Daschle resigned from several corporate boards, including that of the renowned Mayo Clinic. At the time, Daschle was listed as a senior policy advisor with Alston & Bird, which paid him $2.1 million in 2008, according to his financial disclosure filings. He earned about $2 million more as a consultant for a private equity firm.

Daschle withdrew his name from consideration for a cabinet post on Feb. 3. Two weeks later, Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus bill, which included the incentives for computerized medical record storage systems. Administration officials consider the conversion vital to health reform, arguing it will slash health care costs and improve the quality of medical practice.

In the weeks after the stimulus bill passed, Alston & Bird lawyer Jacqueline Baratian pitched the idea of creating the new health information technology group "in light of all the monies that were floating out there," she said in an interview. Baratian said she spoke with Daschle about heading up the effort together and they "decided it would be a great partnership."

"When we put together the task force we were thrilled to have Senator Daschle here because of his wealth of knowledge on these issues," Baratian said. "That was really a driving force."

By early April, Alston & Bird had the task force up and running with the goal to provide "bipartisan legislative, regulatory and policy expertise, as well as transactional advice, on a wide range of health, technology and privacy matters," according to the firm. Though Baratian declined to identify its clients, the firm's Web site states that they include hospitals, health care practitioners and health plans as well as "manufacturers and vendors" of digital records systems.

In addition to keeping clients updated on government panels working out details of the stimulus, Alston & Bird employees have met with David Blumenthal, the government's top health information technology official, Baratian said.

The meetings centered on what standards the government will require for doctors and hospitals to qualify for stimulus reimbursements, she said. The so-called "meaningful use" criteria, which are expected to be made public later this month, are being closely watched both by buyers and sellers of digital systems. Many in the industry worry that if the standards are too strict it will discourage doctors and hospitals from buying the systems.

"We've had face to face meetings with David Blumenthal in trying to position our clients for meaningful use," Baratian said. She said she did not attend the meetings and declined to provide further details about what was discussed or who attended. Neither would a spokesman for Blumenthal.

Amey, of the Project on Government Oversight, said Daschle's case illustrates that the Obama administration's promises to limit the influence of lobbyists may not go far enough.

"This is the perfect example of someone who is not a registered lobbyist but still has a lot of connections and influence in Washington, D.C.," he said.

The public has no way to find out if politically connected people who are neither officials nor registered lobbyists are influencing policy decisions, said Janine Wedel, a professor in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University and author of the book, "Shadow Elite, How The World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market."

"This is the way many top influencers operate. They play mutually influencing roles that are not fully disclosed or transparent," Wedel said.

Daschle has taken the position that he does not have to register as a lobbyist. He told the New York Times last month: "I'm very proud of the fact that I've drawn a very hard line with regard to advocacy on the Hill... I've not made a call nor made a visit since I left the Senate on behalf of a client. And I don't have any expectation that I'll do that in the future." Last month, Daschle left Alston & Bird to join the Washington law firm DLA Piper, which said in a statement that Daschle will "counsel clients on a wide range of regulatory and government affairs issues."

Daschle also joined the advisory board of GE Healthcare's "healthymagination" project in May, alongside former Tennessee Republican Sen. Bill Frist, former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former chiefs of Medicare and the Food and Drug Administration.

GE's finance arm, GE Capital, announced in May that it would set aside $2 billion for financing digital records systems, including the program that is making interest-free loans to doctors and hospitals. The company also is guaranteeing that its equipment will meet the "meaningful use" standards to qualify for stimulus funding. [Editor's Note: Updated 12/16/09 to correct details of GE's financing plan.]

"We can only find real solutions in health care when business, government and their partners work together," Daschle said in a GE statement announcing his appointment to the advisory board in May. "The commitments GE made today on access, cost and quality are a great start toward demonstrating their leadership in this debate. I look forward to working with them."

GE spokeswoman Deirdre Latour said the company brought together a range of experts to advise it on the campaign, which is intended to foster innovation in health care as well as reduce costs and improve access to medical services.

Members of the board are paid a small stipend, she said.

Andrew von Eschenbach, who serves on the GE panel with Daschle, said the initiative "could have a very substantive impact in how we develop health care in the future."

Julian Hattem   |   December 14, 2009    3:46 PM ET

Despite recent recession trend stories suggesting that lobbyists are in less of a mood to party, the Sunlight Foundation has heard of three times more fundraisers happening this December compared to last December. And while an unusual legislative schedule has reportedly spoiled senators' fundraising efforts, members of the House are having no such trouble.

Of the seasonal fundraisers happening this week, only one congressman, Republican Bill Posey, has the nerve to mention a religious denomination in his invite (to see "A Christmas Carol"). Highlight's of the week's events:

HOLIDAY IN NEW YORK Over the weekend, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) was scheduled to host a "Holiday Weekend in New York" fundraiser in her hometown. According to an invitation received by Sunlight, guests were treated to a reception on Friday, two meals on Saturday, and Sunday brunch, as well as two tickets to "South Pacific" on Broadway. Attendees also are guaranteed access to two upcoming "issues breakfasts" in Washington next year. Cost of the holiday weekend? A contribution of $4,800 to $5,000 to Rep. Maloney's 2010 campaign.

HOLIDAY BREAKFAST Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) will be the beneficiary of a "Holiday Breakfast" on Tuesday morning at the National Democratic Club townhouse near the Capitol. Cost of attendance is a campaign contribution ranging from $500 to $5,000.

WINTER RECEPTION At that same townhouse, Rep. John Olver (D-Mass.) has a "Winter Reception" planned for later that evening. Rep. Olver's suggested contribution is $1,000 -- not quite as costly as his colleague's.

HOLIDAY RECEPTION On Wednesday evening, Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) has scheduled a "Holiday Reception" at a Capitol Hill Mediterranean cafe, with a $500 - $1,000 cover charge. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) is scheduled to come as a "Special Guest."

A CHRISTMAS CAROL! Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) is inviting contributors to a Tuesday night performance of "A Christmas Carol" at the Ford Theatre. Pre-show hot chocolate and baked goods will be served at a nearby Starbucks at 6:00 p.m.; the show starts at 7:00. Tickets cost a campaign contribution of $1,000 for one, two for $1,500 and four for $2,500.

Big Booze Wines And Dines The Fourth Estate

Sam Stein   |   December 11, 2009   12:05 PM ET

In the world of journalism, reporters and sources dance a delicate tango, feeling each other out for better information and better coverage.

On Thursday night, the alcohol industry elevated the ritual to a new level of lavishness. Big Booze held its first ever State of the Alcohol Industry briefing at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. -- site of the very first liquor license issued after the repeal of prohibition -- followed by a booze-soaked reception.

It was, at once, an educational affair about one of the most profitable industries in the country and a rather direct tug at a reporter's heart. After all, journalists have a reputation for imbibing, a professional mythology that they're eager to uphold. And, on that night, they were treated to the ultimate prize, provided that they were willing to sit through a few industry pitches.

Craig Wolf, president of event host Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, delivered a message repeated by his cohorts: The alcohol industry is strong, but not immune to market pitfalls. "The myth that people drink more during a recession is just that, a myth," said Mark Brown, the CEO of Sazerac Company. "The problem we face right now is the population of the United States is not exactly in a festive mood."

If the country needed a good economic boost, spirits, wine and beer might just be the engine to deliver it, added Wolf.

"It was the rebirth of the beverage alcohol industry that helped lead us out of the Great Depression," Wolf said during the briefing. "And I can ensure you that the vitality of the beverage alcohol industry today is just as important in helping to lead this nation out of the Great Recession. That's because beverage alcohol is a profit leader."

So far this year, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers spent $820,000 lobbying policymakers on all manner of tax, trade, labor and rulemaking issues. The National Beer Wholesalers added an additional $700,000, and the Distilled Spirits Council has spent a whopping $3.5 million. It was probably cheaper to put the media under the influence, though organizers spared no expense setting up Thursday's event.

To wit: a ballroom equipped with four bar stations serving high-end drinks. A mob formed around the Johnnie Walker table, which offered a tasting "progression" of increasingly expensive whiskeys, starting with the upscale, pure malt Green Label and culminating with a shot of $200-a-bottle Blue Label.

In another corner, a wine station featuring three reds (a Graffigan from Argentina, a King Estate from Oregon and a Veeder from Napa) to complement the three whites (a Chateau Ste. Michelle from Columbia Valley, a Wild Horse from Santa Maria Valley and a Brancott from Marlborough, New Zealand). There was a Hennessy tasting station, with four distinct brands. And in the holiday spirit, one bar served Gingerbread Cookie martinis: a mix of Absolut Vanilla Vodka, Hiram Walker Gingerbread Liqueur, Kahlua Coffee Liqueur and half and half. And if that weren't enough, the wholesalers had a massive squared-shaped bar constructed in the middle of the room serving standard drinks in addition to high-end whiskey: Buffalo Trace, Sazerac Rye, Blanton's, Rain Organics and Eagle Rare.

"They built a booze house, and I think it's great," remarked Bill Chappell of National Public Radio. Likewise, Huffington Post reporters partook.

Reporters can maintain their sense of objectivity even as their other senses become impaired. But Thursday night's affair illustrates the sweeteners that industries and sources often offer as a means of subtly influencing coverage of their issues. Over free drinks, lobbyists mentioned potential free trips, such as a trek on the "Whiskey trail" through Kentucky and Tennessee. Another reporter mentioned that an industry insider discussed sending her to an event in Las Vegas.

Amidst it all, people soaked up the liquor with non-stop food, including trays of crab cakes with red pepper dressing, shrimp with mango sauce, spanakopita as well as a roast beef and a risotto station. The room grew increasingly crowded -- dozens of journalists attended the reception, compared to the handful who actually went to the briefing. Wolf offered a brief toast during the festivities.

"It's important," he said, "that the beverage and alcohol industry have a good relationship with the media."

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McCain Robocalls Prompt Ethics Complaint

Arthur Delaney   |   December 9, 2009    2:05 PM ET

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) broke Senate rules when he recorded a robocall touting his amendment to the health care bill, according to a complaint filed with the Senate Ethics Committee by watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee paid for the call, which targeted the constituents of swing senators in five states and attacked the current health care reform bill for "cutting $500 billion in vital Medicare coverage for our seniors." The call urged constituents to sign a petition encouraging the senators to support McCain's amendment.

In its complaint, CREW cites Senate Rule 38, which prohibits senators from using private donations to support official Senate activities.

"The NRSC is clearly paying for it," CREW director Melanie Sloan told the Huffington Post, "but it is McCain lobbying for his own bill."

It's common for members of Congress to record robocalls supporting reelection efforts, but not so common for a member to to record a call urging grassroots action on his or her own legislation. Shaun Dakin, founder of the National Political Do Not Call Registry, said he had never heard of a robocall quite like McCain's.

"I can't really remember a committee that had used the voice of a sitting representative in order to drive grassroots activism around a specific issue," he told Huff Post.

Dakin also noted that if the NRSC placed robocalls targeting Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, that would be illegal according to state law.

NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh defended the call and referred to CREW as a "left-wing front group" in a statement.

"Senator McCain recorded this message at the request of the NRSC and all expenditures associated with the calls were paid for by NRSC since this was a political campaign that urged Americans to sign a petition to Congress," Walsh said. "While the close relationship that a left-wing front group like CREW has with the DSCC is not lost on us, the reality is that this complaint has zero merit."

Click here to read CREW's complaint.

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Financial Industry Money Flows To Sponsors Of Industry-Friendly Amendments

Arthur Delaney   |   December 9, 2009    1:15 PM ET

Members of the House Financial Services Committee have received, on average, $138,422 in campaign contributions from the financial services industry so far this year -- more than twice what non-committee members have taken in. And ten committee members who are cosponsors of two industry-friendly amendments received an average of about $200,000 from the financial sector.

"Financial services members in general receive a lot from the sector they regulate," said Taylor Lincoln, a researcher for Public Citizen, which on Tuesday published a report drawing attention to the money flow. "These members receive an extra lot."

It's the latest in a series of reports suggesting -- but not proving -- a direct connection between campaign contributions and legislation. Members of Congress never admit that campaign money affects lawmaking, though backers of campaign finance reform call the current system "corrosive" if not corrupt.

Public Citizen and other good-government groups are much more skeptical.

"People should ask themselves if there's a likelihood that these amendments would exist if it were consumer advocates giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to these members and the banks didn't make any contributions," said Lincoln.

The amendments in question, from Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) and Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill), would scrap the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency and forbid states from enforcing stricter financial regulations than the federal government's, respectively.

The Bean amendment was beaten back after a fight between Democrats on the committee. Minnick held off on introducing his amendment in committee reportedly because chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) objected.

It's up to the Rules Committee whether the amendments will come up on the House floor.

The top contributors to the members who sponsored the two amendments were the American Bankers Association, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and New York Life Insurance.

Not all the cosponsors of the two amendments received outsized amounts of money from the financial industry. Seven cosponsors who do not sit on the Financial Services Committee received less than $80,000 from the sector this year.

22 Former Bush Administration Officials Now Lobbying On Climate Policy

Arthur Delaney   |   December 7, 2009    6:10 PM ET

Twenty-two former Bush administration officials once responsible for climate policy are now lobbying on the climate change issue, mostly for the oil, gas and mining industries, according to a new report by watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

"These alumni of the Bush climate team continue to shape and confuse the debate over global warming," said CREW executive director Melanie Sloan in a statement. "They may have changed their uniforms, but they're still playing for the same team."

Of 120 staff officials at the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Environmental Protection Agency, CREW turned up 22 people who have moved on to the influence industry. Of those, 14 are registered lobbyists.

The poster child for this particular revolving door is probably Philip Cooney, who resigned from his position at CEQ in 2005 after it emerged that he'd edited climate reports to play down evidence of global warming. Cooney worked for the American Petroleum Institute before joining the Bush administration, and after he resigned he took a job with API member Exxon-Mobil.

CREW's report suggests that the weakening climate change consensus among the U.S. public is due to the influence of disinformation spread by former officials like Cooney: "Through lobbying and industry-manufactured 'grassroots' activities, these individuals continue to influence and confuse the debate over global warming and hamper the efforts of the current administration to help establish a public consensus on this issue."

Click here for a PDF of CREW's report.

Julian Hattem   |   December 7, 2009    3:26 PM ET

Herewith, LobbyBlog's three favorite political fundraisers happening this week:

ANYTHING FIR CASH At noon on Tuesday, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) has scheduled a holiday-themed fundraiser where contributors receive various-sized wreaths from Maine fir trees, according to an invitation received by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation. A $500 contribution to the Congressman's campaign will be rewarded with a 22" Balsam fir wreath, but paying up to $2,000 yields one four inches larger. Will Michaud have to skip out on a 10 am hearing for the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit about the government's role in public transit safety?

CHECKS FOR CHILES Rep. Harry Teague (D-N.M.) is set to host a Chile Sauce Tasting Fundraiser Tuesday evening at a Capitol Hill townhouse. At up to $2,500 to get in, this stuff better be hot. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is scheduled to attend as a "Special Guest."

MULTIPLICITY Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) is scheduled for a twofer on Thursday: breakfast with "Special Guest" Barney Frank at a Capitol Hill townhouse in the morning, and a Wizards-Celtics basketball game at night. Cost of attendance at each event is a campaign contribution ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. Rep. Connolly also has two different committee obligations that morning -- an Oversight and Government Reform business meeting and a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Big day for Connolly!

Greenpeace Asks For Senate Investigation Into Newsweek's Big Oil Forum

Arthur Delaney   |   December 4, 2009   10:10 AM ET

On Tuesday, Newsweek hosted a climate and energy policy forum on Capitol Hill with the American Petroleum Institute. Now Greenpeace, which has been hectoring the magazine for weeks over its plans to partner with Big Oil for this forum, has asked the Senate to investigate whether the event was in violation of congressional rules.

In a letter to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, Greenpeace director Phil Radford cites guidelines that prohibit the "use of Senate space for any commercial, promotional, or profit-making purpose" and "signs, placards, photographs, brochures or pamphlets displaying a group or company name or logo."

Radford attached to his letter pamphlets and flyers from the event that featured both the Newsweek and API logos.

Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman moderated the panel, which included API lobbyist Jack Gerard with Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

"Credible institutions like Newsweek and the U.S Congress need to stop doing business with un-credible institutions like the American Petroleum Institute," Greenpeace director Phil Radford told HuffPost. "Newsweek is using its advertising to allow corporations to buy access to Congress. It's part of this huge campaign of Big Oil to sap tax dollars for more subsidies when we really need clean energy jobs."

API has spent $5.8 million lobbying so far in 2009, according to disclosure reports.

Here's the Greenpeace letter:

December 3, 2009

Senator Charles Schumer

Senate Committee on Rules and Administration

305 Russell Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Schumer,

As you may know, on Tuesday, December 1st, Newsweek Magazine and the American Petroleum Institute (API) co-sponsored a controversial "forum" in the Mansfield Room (S-207) in the US Capitol Building. According to the admission of public relations staff at Newsweek and several news accounts, API paid Newsweek enough to make the trade group eligible to co-sponsor an "Executive Forum." As part of API's advertising deal with Newsweek, the group's President, registered lobbyist Jack Gerard, was granted the only non-governmental seat on the panel aside from a Newsweek editor.

After reviewing the Senate Rules governing events held at the US Capitol, I believe this forum violated the guidelines governing events held in the Senate Wing of the US Capitol or in Senate office buildings. I am writing to urge you to investigate this matter and share the findings of that investigation with the public. Additionally, I hope you will consider the greater impact that this type of conduct could have on the public's perception of the United States Congress. The United States Capitol is not a convention center with rooms available to the lobbyist who signs the largest check, nor is it a venue for any private, profit-making company to promote its product.

The Senate Committee on Rules and Administration provides clear guidance for events held in taxpayer-funded facilities like the Capitol:

Commercial, Promotional or Profit Making Events

* Booking and use of Senate space for any commercial, promotional, or profit-making purpose is strictly prohibited.

* No signs, placards, photographs, brochures or pamphlets displaying a group or company name or logo are permitted.

* No products or services may be promoted or sold on the premises. No promotional material may be distributed on the premises.

Several members of my staff attended the "forum" and provided the details below that prove that this event was beyond the pale of acceptable conduct within the walls of the US Capitol. You will find attached with this letter documentation of many of the claims made below.

The "forum", which was moderated by Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman, featured a panel that included Gerard and three members of Congress: Senator Byron Dorgan, Representative Edward Markey and Representative Fred Upton. Other members of Congress and their staff also attended the "forum", which included food, wine, and beer as refreshments, the cost of which was presumably covered by API's package deal. Despite the Senate rule banning promotional materials and company names and logos, the Mansfield room was covered in brochures, signs and other materials that outwardly promoted API, Newsweek and the magazine's advertisers. Examples include:

* At the beginning of the "forum" each seat was covered by an API brochure that featured the group's logo and included the tagline "America's oil and natural gas industry supports over 9 million jobs. One of them may be yours."
* Newsweek provided every attendee with copies of its magazine and other materials that included paid advertisements.
* Posters located at the front of the room and at the entrance to the Mansfield room included both Newsweek's and API's corporate logos.

These materials appear to be in clear violation of the rules banning promotional material in the Senate wing of the Capitol and Senate office buildings. I hope you share my shock that API was permitted to pay Newsweek for the opportunity to directly influence members of Congress and their staff with brochures and other information just steps from the Senate floor. It is equally disturbing that Newsweek was permitted to use the room in the first place and to distribute copies of the publication, which included numerous advertisements.

As you and your colleagues debate energy and climate legislation that could put our nation on the course to a new clean energy economy, I hope you agree that it is critically important to ensure that no lobbyist or interest group is able to buy special "pay-to-play" access to influence members or their staff. This "Executive Forum" clearly violated the "letter of the law" governing events at the US Capitol and it threatens to undermine Congress's credibility as faithful stewards of the public trust.

Finally, it is worth noting that members of my staff attempted to ask Mr. Gerard on camera about API's financial relationship to Newsweek regarding this event and he repeatedly refused.

I hope that your three committees will investigate this matter and inform the public about these troubling violations of Congressional rules and ethics laws.

Phil Radford
Greenpeace Executive Director

Encl: Two Photos of Newsweek and API promotional materials

Members Of Congress Lobbying Each Other Astroturf-Style

Arthur Delaney   |   November 30, 2009    5:00 PM ET

Democratic members of Congress are lobbying each other Astroturf-style, at least according to an internal House Ethics Committee memo obtained by WikiLeaks.

Astroturfing is the phenomenon by which a political or commercial interest drums up fake-grassroots support on an issue -- but it doesn't usually originate in a congressional office.

On page 16 of the ethics memo, first obtained by the Washington Post, it describes how a staffer from the office of Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) called the ethics committee to find out if a fellow member of Congress broke the rules by encouraging a Loebsack constituent to call his office to influence a vote.

Loebsack's office and others apparently received calls from constituents goaded by other members' offices. The document says that fellow Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley's office "apparently had made the calls." (Though the report initially says the encouragement came in the form of an email.)

The committee advised that trying to get another member's constituents to call the office and demand a vote sounds "like it might violate both the Franking rules and the rule that Members should not be providing guidance on how to lobby Congress."

All members of Congress benefit from a "Franking" privilege that reimburses them for newsletters to constituents. But the Franking rules prohibit members from sending partisan material, solicitations for campaign funds or letters to encourage grassroots lobbying. According to the guidance on the Committee on House Administration website, "all electronic communication content" -- such as a website or email -- "must comply with the Franking Regulations."

Melanie Sloan, executive director of nonpartisan watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, agreed with the committee that emailing a fellow member's constituent is against the rules.

"It's a violation," she told Huffington Post.

The ethics committee declined to confirm the authenticity of the Wikileaks document to HuffPost, though it's entirely consistent with the Washington Post's reporting. Here's the previously-undisclosed Astroturfing tidbit:

-Eric from Loebsack's office called to see if there was a rules violation for a Member to send emails to individuals outside of his district asking theme recipient to contact his/her own Member to ask for a certain vote on a pending bill (Loebsack had received one of these calls). I told him it sounded like it might violate both the Franking rules and the rule that Members should not be providing guidance on how to lobby Congress. A couple of days later, Peg got a call from Braley's office, which apparently had made the calls. Her advice was consistent with mine, but apparently some of the Members who received the resulting calls are not pleased.

Neither Braley's nor Loebsack's offices responded to requests for comment from HuffPost. Here's what we'd like to know: What vote did a Loebsack constituent call about, and who put him or her up to it?

Tips? Email

With reporting by Laura Bassett