Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley took in $154,350 in third-quarter campaign donations from the health insurance industry, according to the Public Campaign Action Fund.
Grassley, a ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which voted down a health reform earlier this year, has received at least $3.3 million from the health care industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
"Sen. Grassley was showered with health industry contributions while the Finance Committee was meeting to discuss health care legislation," said David Donnelly, national programs director for the Public Campaign Action Fund."
Grassley has stated that he will not support reform legislation that includes a public option.
"It'd be very difficult for me to support any public option, which is another word for a government-run health care plan, or another new entitlement on top of Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, which are already bankrupt," Grassley said in October. "Can we afford any more entitlements?"
As the Senate Finance Committee took a lead role in crafting health care legislation, campaign contributions from the health care industry flowed to its members, including Chairman Max Baucus.
Baucus was already a leading recipient of health-care cash, taking in nearly $1.5 million through political action committees in 2007 and 2008.
Bloomberg's Yalman Onaran takes a glance at the state of play on the consumer protection front, and sizes up the influence that the banking lobby has been able to exert on ongoing efforts to reign in the excesses that caused the 2008 economic meltdown. Overall, it's a bit of the ol' good news/bad news:
Banks and securities firms spent $193 million to fund political campaigns for the 2008 elections and raise even more money through events that their trade groups organize. They have successfully fought the administration's efforts to limit executive pay and are battling against draft legislation governing the $592 trillion market for derivatives.
When it comes to consumer banking, the industry's lobbyists are no longer all-powerful. Banks lost their bid to squelch new credit card rules that Obama signed into law in May. They lobbied for months before a bill that would have forced them to renegotiate mortgages failed in the Senate.
Now the banks and their trade associations are lobbying furiously to kill Obama's plan to create the new financial protection agency, which was approved by the House Financial Services Committee in late October and is likely to face a full House vote by the end of 2009.
Onaran goes on to attribute some of the waning influence on the overwhelming public sentiment against the banking industry, the "weakened position" of major players post-bailout, and the difficulty that varied interest groups are having coalescing around "how they want the bill rewritten."
Nevertheless, the lobbyists have not surrendered, and that revolving door remains a-spin:
JPMorgan Chase & Co., the second-biggest U.S. bank, got 48 percent of its revenue from consumer lending in the first nine months of 2009. The bank, which was one of the least scathed by the crisis, has stepped up its lobbying. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon now visits the capital twice a month, meeting with administration officials and congressional leaders, up from twice a year in 2006.
"JPMorgan also added two lobbyists to its Washington staff, which includes former Commerce Secretary William Daley. Jill Blickstein, who was previously chief of staff at the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration, was one of the new hires."
Banks Discover Consumer Protection Too Big to Fail [Bloomberg]
Washington lawmakers are feeling the effects of the recession, reports the Center for Responsive Politics -- just not as much as the rest of us.
According to a study of personal financial disclosure reports by the CRP, the median wealth of members of Congress dropped nearly 5 percent in 2008 compared to the previous year.
Don't feel sorry for them: Despite the drop, 237 members of Congress are still millionaires.
Senators' median worth currently stands at $1.79 million, down from $2.27 million the year before. House members' current median income is $622,254, down from $724,258 in 2007. Fifty lawmakers have an estimated wealth of at least $10 million.
"Generally speaking, members of Congress are wealthy by comparison with the vast majority of Americans. That doesn't mean they're immune to the effects of this ailing economy -- they're not," said Sheila Krumholz, the CRP's executive director, in a statement. "But they are much better positioned to withstand financial pressures than the people they represent."
The members of Congress who have lost most amid the economic downturn are Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.). Bucking downward trends, however, are Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who experienced a rise in their wealth.
But because members of Congress are only required to report their wealth and liabilities in broad ranges, it's impossible to precisely determine how much their assets are worth, or how much they've gained or lost. CRP found that twenty-three members of the House recorded an average wealth in the negative territory, with Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Harry Teague (D-N.M.) disclosing the lowest amounts of personal wealth.
With Reporting By Julian Hattem
Twenty-five top recipients of government bailout funds spent more than $71 million on lobbying in the year since they were rescued, an extensive review of federal lobbying records by the Huffington Post reveals.
A year after taxpayers forked over $700 billion to help rescue the biggest names in banking, insurance and the automotive industry, those same institutions are using portions of the cash to influence legislation with a direct impact on taxpayers.
In all, during the last quarter of 2008 and the first three quarters of 2009, those 25 institutions spent $71,199,000 on lobbying. The list includes General Motors ($11.95 million), Citigroup ($8.915 million), Bank of America ($6.427 million), J.P. Morgan Chase ($7.735 million), Goldman Sachs ($4.38 million) and AIG ($3.47 million). Some of these companies have paid federal money back. Not all of the top bailout recipients, meanwhile, spent money on lobbying.
The amount that was spent, however, is nearly identical to the lobbying expenditures these same companies made during the year preceding the federal bailout. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, bailout recipients paid approximately $76.7 million for the services of lobbyists in 2008. All of which has sparked angry pushback from good government groups and lawmakers on the Hill, who ask whether the expenditures are appropriate after these institutions took the nation's economy to the brink of collapse.
"It creates a bizarre feedback loop where taxpayer money is being used by beneficiaries of the bailout to, in some cases, thwart taxpayer protections and even to score more taxpayer money, things that taxpayers themselves will likely find quite distasteful," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. "The question is where does it end?"
Much of the lobbying money spent by bailout recipients has been devoted to influencing legislation that has direct impact on taxpayers. Among the eight recipients who spent more than $3 million lobbying since the bailout, the most common specific items of interests included the Credit Card Holders' Bill of Rights Act, the Credit Card Fair Fee Act of 2009, Credit CARD Act of 2009, the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, and the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act.
Specifically, bailed-out institution have fought efforts to give bankruptcy judges the power to renegotiate mortgages. They have worked against legislation that would lower the fees merchants are charged when their customers use credit cards. They have also worked against legislation that would put more restrictions on how they spend taxpayer funds.
"The biggest problem is that they are lobbying for more bailouts," said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Cali). "In particular they want to make sure that future bailouts do not involve votes in Congress because Wall Street is convinced that Congress is not a reliable bailout partner. They want all bailout decisions made by the executive branch because all elements of the executive were very pro-bailout throughout the process."
Officials representing bailout recipients insist that their lobbying expenditures are neither untoward nor exceptional. They stress that the Capital Purchase Program portion of the TARP -- the program in which many of the failing banks are participating -- was "forced" on those institutions by the federal government, meaning that the banks shouldn't be held to a different standard of good-governance.
"[The banks] were brought to Washington and told they were going to take this money," said Peter Garucci, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association. "It was billed, and is still regarded by Treasury, as an investment program in healthy banks as a means to spur greater lending."
Asked if spending $71 million on lobbying was a form of "greater lending," Garucci replied: "No. I wouldn't make that contention."
But Garucci, and other officials at various bailed out institutions, insist that it would be overly restrictive and perhaps unconstitutional to apply restrictions that limited or simply barred institutions relying on taxpayer money from lobbying.
"We are faced with new proposals and new ideas almost every day," said Garucci. "It is very well understood that fundamental reform of the entire financial system is under consideration. And from our perspective, we work with members from both sides of the aisle to discuss how that is going to progress."
Still, for others, it is difficult to justify institutions spending any money -- let alone $71 million -- just one year after needing a historic lifeline from the American public. That bailed-out companies could spend so much simply on influencing legislation, they argue, is reflective of how stacked the political deck truly is in favor of the financial sector. As the Service Employees International Union reported, all Wall Street institutions -- banks and insurance companies, TARP recipients and non-TARP recipients -- have spent $321 million on lobbying in the first nine months since the bailout.
"It's obscene that banks are using tax payer money to lobby against reforms that would protect consumers and the country from banks crashing the economy again," said Stephen Lerner, director of the private equity project at SEIU. "They have plenty of money for lobbying and bonuses while they cut off lending to small business and are again raising credit card interest rates."
The heated stand-off between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and lawmakers pushing for comprehensive climate change may be cooling, reports Congress Daily.
The nation's largest business association -- which has aggressively lobbied against the passage of climate change legislation, sent a letter to bill co-sponsor Sen. Barbara Boxer, saying "Senators Kerry and Graham have set forth a positive, practical and realistic framework for legislation, one that echoes the core principles of the Chamber."
The Center For Public Integrity just released a blockbuster investigative report that details the intense corporate pressure to block an effective global treaty from being reached at the UN Climate Talks in Copenhagen in December, and to halt efforts in individual countries to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition to fierce lobbying behind closed doors, some of the most aggressive tactics deployed by resource giants such as Exxon Mobil, Peabody Coal and other energy and agriculture interests are often the most public: spreading fear and misinformation about the true impact of emissions regulations.
Some examples from the report:
In the poor, but mineral-rich mountains of the eastern United States known as Appalachia, coal millionaire Don Blankenship hosts a rally for "Friends of America" to hear country music and "learn how environmental extremists and corporate America are both trying to destroy your jobs"...
Around the world the story is the much same. Wherever nations have taken the first modest steps to stave off a looming environmental calamity for future generations, they've triggered a backlash from powers rooted in the economy of the past. Opponents of climate action may have different methods as they pressure different capitals, but the message is consistent: Be afraid that a cherished way of life may be lost. Be afraid that a better standard of living will never be had.
Here's a summary of the full extent of the center's investigation:
Starting in July 2009, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists fielded an eight-country team of reporters to uncover the special interests attempting to influence negotiations on a global climate change treaty. Relying on more than 200 interviews, lobbying and campaign contribution records in a half-dozen countries, and on-the-ground reporting from Beijing to Brussels, our team pieced together the story of a far-reaching, multinational backlash by fossil fuel industries and other heavy carbon emitters aimed at slowing progress on control of greenhouse gas emissions. Employing thousands of lobbyists, millions in political contributions, and widespread fear tactics, entrenched interests worldwide are thwarting the steps that scientists say are needed to stave off a looming environmental calamity, the investigation found.
The tactics employed have changed over time -- before the Kyoto climate talks, industry lobbyists fervently denied the science behind global warming. Now they generally acknowledge that climate change is real, but attempt to stall and water down any progress in limiting emissions.
The map below breaks down how much each of several major world regions contribute in global emissions. Click on the map for the interactive version on the Center for Public Integrity's website.
Some other fascinating findings from the report:
A commonly repeated mantra in the media is that tensions surrounding the climate talks center on developed countries not wanting to give up certain standards of living, while developing countries fear that regulations will stifle economic growth. In contrast, this study found that "both developed and developing countries are under heavy pressure by fossil fuel industries and other carbon-intensive businesses to slow progress on negotiations and weaken government commitments. The clash cannot simply be framed as one between richer and poorer nations."
The report also highlighted the astronomical amount of money and effort the energy lobby has poured into attempts to stall any meaningful advancement of climate legislation, particularly in the US. "There are now about 2,810 climate lobbyists -- five lobbyists for every member of Congress -- a 400 percent jump from six years earlier."
To read the whole article from the Center for Public Integrity, CLICK HERE.
So, if you happen to have read a recent study by the Center for Responsive Politics and OMB Watch entitled "Lobbyists Terminating Their Federal Registrations at Accelerated Rate", you might be under the impression that finally, lobbyists are being run out of town, in droves. WOO-HAH, BARACK OBAMA'S GOT YOU ALL IN CHECK, maybe? And also, according to the Wall Street Journal, there's this thing called "the recession," which is bringing down lobbyist firms at a slightly slower rate than its bringing everybody else down. Yeah, uhm...woo!
But, as the report points out, it's best not to get ahead of ourselves and form cheering crowds on the sidewalk as your beloved K Street whores scuttle away. That's because lobbyists are reinventing themselves under new names, and sticking around to stick up for various well-monied interests. Back when we reported on this study, our own Jenna Staul noted:
The decline in registered lobbyists, however, doesn't necessarily translate into fewer people working to influence policy. At the federal level, many lobbyists avert disclosure requirements under the Lobbying Disclosure Act by working under titles such as "senior adviser."
Over at TAPPED, Suzy Khimm gets confirmation that this is happening:
As OMB Watch and CRP note, many lobbyists who appear to have left have come back as unregistered lobbyists with executive titles like "senior adviser" or "consultant" to avoid having to comply with federal lobbying restrictions. One lobbyist I contacted confirmed this trend in an e-mail today:For people wanting to reenter government, or who interact with "covered officials" not having to register as a lobbyist makes a job more attractive. At our firm we have brought attorneys who are not registered and used them to meet with officials who refuse to see lobbyists... I don't think many people have left the profession, in fact I'd bet the business of influencing government has actually grown over the last year - registrations not withstanding.
If the Obama administration really wanted to crack down on the influence of lobbying, it could force anyone who met with officials "covered" under the current lobbying restrictions to register -- and cut down on the legislative earmarks that still abound. Moreover, OMB Watch's Lee Mason told me, the White House (as well as Congress) could decide to disclose the meetings and communications it has with all the lobbyists and advocates it courts.
Ahh, but if they did that, the White House would have to caveat all of the great advice on healthcare it receives from vital "resource" Tom Daschle!
Khimm's anonymous lobbyist concludes that this current oversight arrangement "basically disadvantages the people who play by the rules while creating a whole new underground influence game that flouts a law that can't be enforced." So, hey, yeah, pop Cristal!
A new ad from the Chamber of Commerce and its allies attacking Democratic-led efforts to pass health care legislation includes a storyline that union critics say is rife with racial undertones.
The spot, titled "Millions," asserts that health reform could "wipe out even more jobs" than those lost so far. But it does so in a peculiar and perhaps controversial way.
The scenario of a distraught boss forced to fire an employee is illustrated by a white worker being summoned to the office as a black co-worker looks on.
An official with the AFL-CIO, who saw the ad air on Wednesday morning, argued that it was a perpetuation of the stereotype that minorities have a leg up on their colleagues because of affirmative-action policies. It gets at the heart of concerns raised by labor leaders like the AFL-CIO's president, Richard Trumka, who fretted during the 2008 presidential campaign that Barack Obama's candidacy would spur racial unrest within work forces.
"This is the same old right wing dog whistle politics," said Eddie Vale, spokesman for the AFL-CIO. "They're trying to use race and class to scare working people about a health care bill."
The Chamber of Commerce scoffed at the charge. "Really?" emailed spokesman Eric Wohlschlegel, in a succinct and dismissive response.
The ad does suggest that the white and black colleagues are on friendly terms. And the overall message is that health care reform will end up taxing already struggling business and hurt the nation's economy. As the script of the ad reads: "Millions of lost jobs, the highest unemployment in 25 years, and Congress's latest health care bill makes a tough economy worse. Over $500 billion in crushing tax increases, but nothing to control rising health care costs. Expensive new mandates on business that could wipe out even more jobs. Call Congress; tell them the new healthcare bill is a bill America can't afford to pay."
Wohlschlegel told the Huffington Post that the spot will air on national cable and in 19 states including Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. It is, he added, a "a multimillion dollar buy."
UPDATE: An earlier version of this article stated that the ad was from the Chamber of Commerce. The ad is from a coalition called Employers for a Healthy Economy, which includes the Chamber, the National Association of Manufacturers, and other similar groups.