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Few Earmarks For Bridge Repairs After Minnesota Collapse

Arthur Delaney   |   November 12, 2009    2:45 PM ET

Amid the national hand-wringing after the Minnesota bridge collapse of 2007, members of Congress earmarked 10 times more money for new transportation projects than for bridge repair, according to a new report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

In the transportation appropriations bill for fiscal 2008, approved just months after the I-35 bridge collapse killed 13 people, members of Congress included more than 700 earmarks worth $574 million in Federal Highway Administration spending. Seventy-four of those earmarks sent just under $60 million to bridge repair -- even though one out of every four bridges in the United States needs work, according to a 2009 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The total amount earmarked for the federal highway program "could have been used to bring approximately 20 structurally deficient bridges per state or two bridges per Congressional district into a state of good repair," says PIRG's report. The good-government group attributes the lack of earmark funds for deficient bridges entirely to elected representatives' insatiable hunger for campaign cash.

"In a political system in which elected officials must raise huge sums of campaign contributions from major donors to win reelection, spending may be skewed toward road widening and new highway projects favored by developers, road builders and other interests," says the report, co-authored by PIRG's Lisa Gilbert and John Krieger.

"Deferring maintenance to build new capacity may seem senseless -- much like a family with a leaky roof who instead builds a new addition -- but it makes sense in Congress if money and politics favor those choices."

Using data from the Center for Responsive Politics, PIRG reports that "highway interests from the construction and transportation industry" contributed $80 million to federal campaigns during the 2008 election cycle.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is one senator who doesn't seem to have put his money where his mouth was after the I-35 collapse, at least according to a review of earmarks in the transportation bill by the Huffington Post.

''For too long, the federal government has focused on building new bridges at the expense of fixing old ones, and now we are living with the consequences,'' Schumer said in August 2007, according to the New York Times. ''Robbing Peter to pay Paul is no way to keep America's drivers safe.''

Schumer's name appears on a dozen earmarks worth $10 million for various transportation projects in New York, only one of which involved fixing up an old bridge. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Huffington Post.

State legislators in Albany joined a rally on Tuesday to draw attention to the state's aging bridges after the Crown Point Bridge was deemed unsafe and shut down. The New York Department of Transportation has estimated that 1,526 bridges will be deficient within the next five years.

Schumer's remark about the federal government's spending priorities did not refer to earmarks, but U.S. PIRG's report calls them a "clear demonstration of the influence and prioritization of members of Congress, because their project requests circumvent agency review."

"Earmarking is kind of the one place where members of Congress actually choose" where money goes, said transportation policy expert Mark Stout in an interview with HuffPost. Stout, who lent his expertise to the report, spent 25 years working for the New Jersey Department of Transportation. "I've spent a lot of time in the weeds and in the mechanics of the funding of the industry."

In their report, U.S. PIRG did not call out any specific members of Congress but they did have some sharp words for the entire Mississippi delegation, one of several to designate zero earmarks to old bridges:

"The delegation from Mississippi," the report says, "secured funding for 19 earmarked projects at a cost of $29,414,000, and despite having a backlog of over 3,000 structurally-deficient bridges in the state, none of their earmarks went to bridge repair."

U.S. PIRG's report, titled "Greasing the Wheels," is available here.

Jenna Staul   |   November 12, 2009    2:35 PM ET

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Jenna Staul   |   November 12, 2009   12:15 PM ET

The 60 Plus Association -- the "conservative alternative" to the AARP -- is launching a new advertising campaign against House Democrats who voted in favor of the party's health care reform, accusing them of supporting a measure that would ultimately undercut Medicare.

The Washington Post reports that the group will spend $1.5 million on TV ads targeting eight Democratic lawmakers from districts with high senior citizen populations.

The ads, which will first air later this week, will feature Reps. Earl Pomeroy (N.D.), Vice Snyder (Ark.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Brad Ellsworth (Ind.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Dina Titus (Nev.), Tom Perriello (Va.) and Gerald Connolly (Va.).

60 Plus "regularly squares off with the AARP," which supports the health care reform bill.

Multiple Democratic-leaning groups have already taken to the airwaves thanking lawmakers for their yes vote on the bill. 60 Plus, however, will be the first group to sponsor a major ad campaign assailing against Democrats since the bill's passage.

60 Plus has spent $227,000 lobbying Congress in the first three quarters of 2009, opposing health care reform legislation, but supporting "comprehensive Medicare reform," according to lobbying disclosure reports.

Take a look at one of their ads here:


UPDATE: Greg Sargent reports that this ad was produced by none other than Larry McCarthy, make of the infamous Willie Horton spot that bedeviled the Dukakis campaign.

Jenna Staul   |   November 12, 2009   10:27 AM ET

The Hill reports that lobbyists for financial giants JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Prudential have held more than half a dozen meetings with lawmakers in the last 10 days to thwart legislation that could allow the government to preemptively break up large firms.

The main focus of their lobbying efforts are proposed amendments to the House Financial Services Committee's reform legislation that would give the Obama administration the ability to limit the size and scope of banking firms, giving the government the power to intervene in firms that are not failing.

Jenna Staul   |   November 11, 2009    4:23 PM ET

Read More: lobbyblog, veterans

In honor of Veterans Day, LobbyBlog looked at which veterans organizations have been actively lobbying lawmakers in the the third quarter of the year.

Their expenditures have been modest compared to the headline-grabbing lobbying expenses poured into hot-button issues like health care reform and climate change.

Wall Street Banks Tricking Little Guys Into Lobbying for Them

Ryan Grim   |   November 11, 2009   12:40 PM ET

Wall Street titans, recognizing that they have something of a credibility problem when it comes to opposing regulatory reform, are enlisting more sympathetic, everyday folks to lobby on their behalf on Capitol Hill.

Bankers, brokers and swaps dealers have been browbeating their clients -- farmers, fuel companies, airlines, municipal power companies -- who are the "end users" of financial derivatives: Lobby Congress against reform of the derivatives market, the bankers say, or the cost of your derivative deals will skyrocket.

"There are many end users who just don't understand the issue, so they're heavily influenced by anybody who does," said Jim Collura of the New England Fuel Institute.

"Many of these guys are influenced by one or both of the following: It's either someone from the financial community whom they've known or respected. It may be their broker, their financial adviser, their swap dealer, whoever. Or they're a member of a trade group and they're getting hammered constantly with: 'You're going to be put out of business; you're not going to be able to hedge; you're not going to be competitive anymore' -- including some of my members," Collura said.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said he sees evidence of the bankers' influence when end users lobby him. "The end users have been basically used by the major investment banks," he told HuffPost Tuesday.

Dodd explains to them that, contrary to what they may have been told, one purpose of regulating derivatives is to protect people like them against predatory bankers. "When you tell them how they benefit from this, they say, 'Well, no one told us this part.'"

The question being debated: Should derivatives - oil or corn futures, or foreign-currency or interest-rate swaps, for instance - be traded in the light of day on a regulated exchange? Or should this multi-trillion dollar market that was a major cause of the last financial crisis continue to just swash around in the dark?

So far, the forces of darkness are prevailing with the end users. Early last month, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) pulled together a coalition of end users who drafted a letter to Congress repeating the precise fears that brokers have been instilling in them. "[S]ome reform proposals would place an extraordinary burden on end-users of derivatives in every sector of the economy--including manufacturers, energy companies, utilities, healthcare companies and commercial real estate owners and developers. Specifically, proposals that would require all OTC derivatives used by business end-users to be centrally cleared, executed on exchanges or cash collateralized or subject end-users to capital charges, would inhibit companies from using these important risk management tools in the course of everyday business operations. These proposals, which would increase business risk and raise costs, are at cross purposes with the goals of lowering systemic risk and promoting economic recovery," reads a letter signed by several pages worth of end users and provided by ISDA.

[UPDATE: A spokesperson for the ISDA insists that the group did not "put together the end users coalition" nor initiated or wrote the letter. Our sources said, however, that ISDA was among those encouraging members to join the effort.]

Such arguments worked wonders in the House. The reform legislation in the lower chamber contains gaping carve-outs for end users, which could effectively undermine any effort to bring light to the dark pools of capital that the system nearly drowned in last fall.

Dodd's bill, unveiled Tuesday, contains no such loophole. "I don't have any [carve-outs]," he said. "I mean, you start down that road, it's endless."

Wall Street traders, however, are very keen on taking Congress down that endless road, which is why they've encouraged each individual user to lobby for a specific exemption.

"Some of our heating oil dealers have heard directly from their investment companies and their traders that they work with," said Sherri Cabrera of the Petroleum Marketers Association of America. Those traders, she said, have pushed the companies to lobby their representatives for an exemption from the regulated derivatives exchange for heating-oil companies.

Sean Cota is the president of Cota & Cota, Inc. a small fuel company in Bellow Falls, Vermont - just the kind of firm that has influence and credibility with home-state lawmakers.

"We had a consensus amongst everybody that this was all a great thing," he said of reform efforts, "until ISDA, the International Swaps and Derivates Association, with the big players and the money in the over-the-counter market, said 'You've got to figure out who your biggest accounts are and start telling them that it's going to get really expensive to do these hedging programs for you folks in the physical market. So you need to make sure that financial reform doesn't happen,'" said Cota.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with derivatives. Lots of companies rely on them to hedge against risk. A farmer or oil producer may want to lock in a future price to avoid the fluctuations of the market and enable financial planning and budgeting. Manufacturers concerned about interest-rate fluctuations or the rise or fall of the dollar can minimize risk by using currency or interest-rate swaps.

But major investors who don't care at all about the price of corn can also game the system by overwhelming a market and driving the price in one direction. Remember $4 gas? Right now, finding out who is doing what in the over-the-counter derivatives market is as hard as determining who's controlling the drug trade.

Financial players in the derivatives market are hugely leveraged, sometimes as much as 400 times -- meaning they have very little of their own money actually in the game. Hundreds of trillions of dollars are traded in the derivatives market -- many times the size of the global GDP.

Having such massive amounts of money floating in the dark can lead to a system-wide seizure if investors' confidence in the scheme suddenly wanes. Reformers are pushing to have all derivatives put on exchanges similar to the New York Stock Exchange.

Such a reform would mean smaller profits for banks and would deprive them of a market that's remarkably easy to manipulate with enough money. But it wouldn't require much, if any, sacrifice from end users.

But that's not what they're being told by people they trust. "First we heard it with the large natural gas users, particularly the municipal systems. That was the first one. And then we've heard it from a number of other large players in the market, saying, 'You know, we're all for this reform. It's going to be good for everybody - but except for me.'"

Cota and others say the persuasion goes on under the radar -- from a trusted adviser to a longtime client.

"It's been targeted. Nothing in writing. Just personal calls. I've had to answer a few folks to explain what the scenario was and that it's going to cost them less because these derivatives have their credit built into them right now. They understand it once I explain it to them," he said. "So we have to defend ourselves against them within our own board of governors...My suspicion is it's happening all over."

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said he's been lobbied by end users and has gotten the sense that Wall Street is behind what they're saying.

"They're going to use anybody they can to try to influence us," he told HuffPost, saying that he's in the unusual position of reverse lobbying. "I think, as with anything, it's going to be an education process."

In order to get a handle on the derivatives market, there have to be consequences for betting billions or trillion and losing, said Tester. But banks can use those potential consequences to frighten companies into opposing reform.

"It's clear we have to do some things to add more transparency and have some people get some skin in the game in this thing. And I'm sure that's exactly what they're going to tell their farmers and their businesspeople, that, 'You know, you're going to have to put money up front.' But the truth is, there has to be skin in the game on this or otherwise we're going to be in the same boat. And we don't want to have another situation like we had a year ago."

And yet, while banks tell their clients that reform means they'll have to put money down up front, what they don't often tell them is that same amount of money - sometimes more - is baked into the fees and costs they already pay brokers.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), whose background in the business sector gives her an advantage in discussions with colleagues, is pushing to make sure there are no loopholes and that all derivatives are traded through an exchange.

Right now, she's working to educate the lobbyists themselves that reform is in their best interests. "There are people who have been around for a long time who saw how damaging a dark market can be to the price of their business. And while some people have made a lot of money off of it, others have suffered greatly.

"I think these individual users [being] used as a façade to push more loopholes instead of properly regulating this market is a mistake," she told HuffPost. "So we hope to bring some of them out to talk about why it's so important to actually have transparency."


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Jenna Staul   |   November 11, 2009    9:39 AM ET

Read More: lobbyblog, lobbying

Politico reported Tuesday that the Obama administration has upset the traditional pecking order of trade associations and business groups, realigning the relationship between corporate America and Capitol Hill. How has Obama done it?

From Politico:

President Barack Obama's approach...is to call out chief executives of individual firms both in favor of and opposed to his ideas. The unorthodox approach challenges corporate loyalties by marginalizing the business associations and those who sit in the lucrative top positions that run them.

The shakeup started with the stimulus package, Politico reported, when renewable energy companies found themselves on the receiving end of $20 billion in stimulus money, a marked change from the Bush administration's support for traditional energy industries.

In an attempt to get on the administration's good side, some groups are more carefully positioning themselves. Take PhRMA, for example, the drug industry group that cut an $80 billion deal with the administration on health care reform deal with the administration on health care reform. America's Health Insurance Plans, on the other hand, cooperated with Obama at first but now risks losing its seat at the table after coming out against legislation taking shape in Congress.

On another front, President Obama issued an executive order earlier this year banning lobbyists from being appointed to executive branch positions. And White House ethics honcho Norm Eisen has battled lobbyists in a series of letters defending the administration's decision to ban lobbyists from federal advisory panels and committees.

Lobbyblog has reported how this may backfire, as a rising number of lobbyists are dropping their registration, perhaps opting instead to influence policy as "senior advisers" and "consultants." In the second quarter of this year, 1,418 lobbyists deregistered -- way more than usual -- possibly as a result of Obama's executive order.

Jenna Staul   |   November 10, 2009    2:20 PM ET

Environmentalists on both sides of the fight for climate change legislation are hoping to enlist veterans groups as a powerful lobbying tool.

Politico reports that the issue of climate change has taken on a new relevance for vets after they return from wars in the Middle East and see high-profile military officials, including Wesley Clark, take on leading roles in the energy industry.

Jenna Staul   |   November 10, 2009   12:56 PM ET

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Why Does Dunkin' Donuts Lobby The Federal Reserve?

Arthur Delaney   |   November 10, 2009   11:58 AM ET

Financial firms have long lobbied the Federal Reserve, high-minded maker of monetary policy. But the Fed's foray into lending during the financial crisis this year has opened it up to lobbying from niche industries like recreational boat manufacturers, rental car companies, and -- Dunkin' Donuts?

Indeed. Dunkin' Brands, parent company of Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, began lobbying the Fed in the second quarter of this year, according to lobbying disclosure reports filed with Congress.

The New York Times reported in June that economists were uneasy with the Fed's role as a credit allocator, because decisions to favor one industry or another can be seen as political, and the Fed is supposed to be insulated from such pressure.

The number of special interests that reported lobbying the Fed shot up from 102 to 143 from the second to third quarters of 2008, as the Fed prepared to announce its Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF), which lends money to investors who buy asset-backed securities from lenders in order to keep credit flowing to borrowers. When it was announced last November, the program was for securities collateralized by student loans, auto loans, credit card loans and loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration. The program officially launched in March, and was expanded to include commercial mortgage-backed securities in July.

So what does Dunkin' want from the Fed, exactly?

In a statement to the Huffington Post, Dunkin' Brands emphasized the fact that its franchises across the country are small businesses, and said its lobbying is on behalf of its franchises and "our nation's entrepreneurial spirit."

"While financing is still available for strong brands such as ours, for the small business community as a whole, gaining access to credit has been challenging and this has limited opportunities for entrepreneurs to go into business for themselves," said Cicely Simpson, top lobbyist for Dunkin' Brands. "On behalf of our nation's entrepreneurial spirit and in honor of our more than 2,200 franchisees, Dunkin' Brands has engaged in conversations with the Federal Reserve, the Administration, and Congress to ensure that they are aware of the credit needs of small business owners."

Simpson was not made available for a conversation, but LobbyBlog wanted to know more. What exactly was on the table during Dunkin's conversation with the Fed -- Donuts? Ice cream?

Joking aside, economists queried by LobbyBlog confirm that there is, in fact, something funny about Dunkin' lobbying the Fed.

"It's a sign of how different the world is, of how much more involved the Federal Reserve is now in specific credit allocation," said Brookings Institution fellow Doug Elliott. Elliott supports the TALF program but is one of those economists who is wary of the Fed's lending role.

"When it was just doing things that affected the economy as the whole there wasn't as much reason to lobby them, but if they're now doing things that provide help to certain categories and not others, then you have a lot of reasons to go lobby them."

Dunkin' Brands has spent $680,000 lobbying the government since last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The two quarterly filings that reported the Fed had been contacted (along with the Congress and the Treasury) on Dunkin's behalf accounted for $60,000 of that total.

Fed critic Robert Auerbach was baffled.

"I just don't understand what the Fed could do for them," he told the Huffington Post. "The regulator of the banking system should not intercede for any particular investor. That should be up to private banks."

Fed officials declined to comment.

Jenna Staul   |   November 10, 2009   11:11 AM ET

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Tony Podesta: Turning Change Into Dollars

Arthur Delaney   |   November 9, 2009    3:10 PM ET

Tony and Heather Podesta basked in the praise when they donated the iconic, five-foot tall "Hope" portrait of Barack Obama to the National Portrait Gallery just before Inauguration Day. But to those who hoped Obama would reduce the influence of lobbyists in Washington, there was also something uniquely depressing about the gift -- because the Podestas are exactly the sort of K Street powerbrokers candidate Obama railed against.

And while Obama's presidency so far has in many ways failed to live up to his campaign poster, it's been a cash cow for the Podestas, who have been able to leverage their insider status into a slew of new high-paying clients. The husband-and-wife lobbyist couple have become icons themselves -- of the lobbying industry's imperviousness to Obama's change agenda.

In just the first nine months of the year, the couple's separate lobby shops have already made more money than in all of 2008, according to disclosure forms filed with Congress. Heather Podesta's firm, Heather Podesta + Partners, surpassed last year's total of $4.7 million with $5.1 million in lobbying income.

Tony Podesta's firm, the Podesta Group, has already reported nearly $19 million from more than 130 clients -- blowing last year's full-year-total, a record high of $16 million, out of the water. He's registered 50 new clients -- way up from the average clip of 20 new clients a year for previous decade.

Tony Podesta declined interview requests from the Huffington Post. But in March, he told Legal Times what parts of his business he expected would prosper under the Obama change regime:

"The president has signaled defense acquisition reforms, defense budget cuts...The Hill will take up those issues, so there's a lot of work in that field," he said. "We're doing a lot more work in financial services than we had done previously, and also doing more health care work and more energy work."

The Podesta Group's biggest boost appears to have come from the health industry. The firm reported lobbying on health issues for 32 clients that have paid $5.1 million for lobbying so far this year, up from $3.8 million from 18 clients in all of 2008.

Twenty-three clients focused on defense issues -- including seven new ones -- paid the Podesta Group $3.2 million, a 60 percent increase from 2008.

The firm took in $2.2 million this year from clients concerned with energy issues, compared to $1.8 million from seven clients in 2008. And when it came to financial issues, the Podesta Group reported billing 17 clients $2.1 million this year, up from $1.3 million from seven clients last year.

(The numbers may be somewhat imprecise as the firm often lobbies for any given client on more than one issue. And it only accounts for direct lobbying of the federal government, not for public relations work.)

For their money, those clients get a small army of former congressional staffers and Obama campaign officials who can tell them what's happening behind the scenes on the Hill, and can plead their case with former colleagues. From the Podesta Group's website:

"Podesta Group professionals have experience in every aspect of the legislative process as well as expertise in public relations...We understand the politics and publicity that determine our clients' fate in Washington, and we have a track record to prove it."

What the website doesn't mention, because it doesn't have to, is that Podesta's brother, former Clinton administration honcho John Podesta, chaired Obama's transition and remains a top adviser.

Tony Podesta has said that he'd never use the family connection to win favors for clients. But from a business standpoint, it doesn't really matter. Craig Holman, a lobbyist with Public Citizen, told the Huffington Post that the appearance is the payoff. "This is the sort of close family tie that inevitably provides very, very handsome profits for the lobbying firm," he said.

Heather Podesta took the Podesta name six months into the marriage, she told the Washington Post -- after she learned firsthand how much it could impress folks on the Hill.

"I'm the third husband, but this is the first time she's changed her name," Tony Podesta told the Post. "That should tell you something."

One of the Podesta Group's biggest new financial-industry clients this year is Sallie Mae, which hired the firm at a rate of about $30,000 a month. The student loan giant needs help because the Obama administration has proposed bypassing government-backed lenders like Sallie Mae and lending directly to students, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated would save $94 billion over the next ten years, and which would pretty much put Sallie Mae out of business. The lender has long devoted significant resources to lobbying, but this year expanded its roster of outside firms.

The Podesta principals handling Sallie Mae are former Department of Education staffer Lauren Maddox and Israel Klein, a former staffer for Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)

The measure passed the House in September, despite opposition from four Democrats -- one of whom, Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.), was the beneficiary of a fundraising dinner thrown by the Podestas in July.

New clients on the energy front include Duke Energy, a utility company somewhat sympathetic to the Obama climate change agenda, and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which is much less so.

The ACCCE achieved notoriety this year after reports that that one of its subcontractors sent forged letters opposing climate change legislation to members of Congress. The House launched an inquiry that culminated in lawmakers scolding ACCCE president Steve Miller in a hearing.

Podesta's new defense clients this year joined the ranks of longer-standing clients Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Raytheon, and other stalwarts of the military-industrial complex that reap enormous amounts of money through the congressional appropriations process. It's another group for whom change is not a good thing.

The president threatened to veto a defense spending bill unless lawmakers stripped $1.75 billion in funding for unneeded F-22 fighter jets. In July, the Senate voted 58 to 40 to kill the funding after an intense industry lobbying effort.

Despite the veto threat, fourteen Democrats voted to keep funding the F-22. In the springtime, the Podestas set up fundraisers for three of them: Patty Murray (Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), and Daniel Inouye (Hawaii). The Feinstein fundraiser was canceled, however, after the invitation listing Feinstein's committees as the different courses of a meal was made public. (Guests who made contributions between $1,000 and $2,500 could order up Feintstein's "Select Committee on Intelligence for the first course" and "your choice of Appropriations, Judiciary or Rules committees" for other courses.)

Most of the Podesta Group's health industry clients are drugmakers and biotech firms. Podesta clients Amgen, Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Genzyme Corporation, and new signup Eisai are among the Big Pharma members that stand to benefit from current health care reform proposals -- particularly after the White House cut an $80 million deal with the industry. For them, change is good.

Tony and Heather Podesta visited the White House eight times in just the first six months of the year, according to the White House's recently-released visitor logs -- with John Podesta visiting an additional 17 times during that period -- as good an advertisement for their firms in the change era as they could possibly ask for.

UPDATE: The final paragraph of this story has been modified to distinguish between White House visit by Tony and Heather Podesta, on the one hand, and John Podesta on the other.

Julian Hattem contributed to this article.

Jenna Staul   |   November 9, 2009   12:09 PM ET

The Sunlight Foundation's Paul Blumenthal traces Sen. Max Baucus' special interest ties to climate legislation -- 12 of his former staffers, including four former chiefs of staff, now lobby for organizations with a vested interest in the policy.

The Montana senator recently voted no on the Boxer-Kerry climate bill from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. As the chairman of the Senate's Finance Committee, Baucus will have his own chance to mold the legislation, and his connections with lobbyists representing a "large cross-sections of industries" could bring a "diversity in positions on the underlying climate bill."

Former Baucus chief of staff David Castagnetti represents a large number of organizations opposed to the legislation including the American Petroleum Institute, the Business Roundtable, the Air Transport Association of America and Koch Industries. On the other end is former Policy Counsel J. Curtis Rich, who represent a number of biofuel, bioenergy and alternative energy groups that are generally supportive climate legislation.

The Associated Press reported that of the 11 Democrats present for the vote, Baucus was the only one who voted no, expressing dissatisfaction of the bill's greenhouse gas emission goals, which are more stringent than those passed by the House in June.

Other committees still must weigh-in on the measure, but the partisan antics early on threatened to cast a pall over the bill - one of President Barack Obama's top priorities - as it makes its way to the Senate floor and as nations prepare to meet in Copenhagen, Denmark next month to hammer out a new international treaty to slow climate change.

During this year's contentious effort to reform health care, Baucus and the Finance Committee came under fire for his extensive ties to the health care industry. In 2008 he received $1,148,775 from the health care sector and $285,850 from the insurance sector.

Jenna Staul   |   November 6, 2009    2:22 PM ET

The Associated Press reports that government aid for the unemployed will be a boon for the real estate, construction and mortgage industries.

It's not a coincidence: Those industries' multimillion-dollar lobbying campaigns paid off yesterday when Congress passed $20 billion in tax cuts for homebuyers intended to spur the lagging housing market. The president signed the bill into law today.

The legislation, which was a part of a broader extension of unemployment benefits, will provide up to 20 weeks in additional pay to more than 1 million people who are near losing jobless aid or have already lost assistance.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that realtors have spent nearly $14 million lobbying Congress this year, and the group rallied its 1.2 million members to contact lawmakers and urge them to pass the jobless aid extension.

According to lobbying disclosure reports, the Mortgage Bankers Association spent $658,000 lobbying Congress in the third quarter, much of which was spent pressing for the "Helping Families Save Their Homes In Bankruptcy Act." Likewise, the National Association of Home Builders spent $750,000 lobbying in the third quarter on a variety of issues.

From the AP:

Bill Killmer of the National Association of Homebuilders called the credit "a pretty powerful tool" in getting people contemplating in buying a house to "move to yes and be motivated" to close the deal. Like the Realtors, homebuilders have been citing the tax credit in their marketing campaigns, using the government subsidy to propel their "Buy now!" message.