Posts Tagged ‘OpenSecrets’

How to Become an Ambassador

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

IN RETROSPECT, “you get what you pay for” is an apt slogan for the 2012 presidential election.  A $100 donation to Obama’s campaign was repaid with an automated thank-you email. Fifty times that earned a plate at a fundraiser attended by the president himself.  Ten times that could result in some presidential face time.  Now take the product ($50,000), double it, bundle in an additional half million, and you’ve got yourself an ambassadorship.  This is according to Open Secrets blogger Brandon Conradis, who recently explored the giving history of actress Colleen Bradley Bell, the newly nominated Ambassador to Hungary.

But Bell isn’t the only one with star power reaping rewards for political fidelity.  Conradis names three other Tinseltown denizens remunerated with ambassadorships: James Costos (Spain), Charles Rivkin (France), and Nicole Avant (the Bahamas).  “You get what you pay for,” indeed—such words could be scrawled on the White House gates.  Better yet, there’s a phrase more familiar to our history: “To the victor belong the spoils.”

McCutcheon v FEC: A New Perspective

Thursday, September 26th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

ORAL ARGUMENTS are set to commence in a mere two weeks for McCutcheon v FEC, a Supreme Court case that could decide the constitutionality of biennial limits on individual donors’ total contributions to candidates, PACs, and parties. LobbyBlog last wrote on the case in March, citing lobbyists’ misgivings towards a future without a contribution ceiling.  One such lobbyist, Tony Podesta, explained how a total contribution cap “is helpful to fend off entreaties from candidates who need more money.”

Now, OpenSecrets is pushing the argument that by abolishing the biennial cap, the Supreme Court would effectively nullify all contribution limits. Bob Biersack, Senior Fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics and contributor to OpenSecrets blog, calls this hypothesis “McCutcheon’s Multiplying Effect.” Currently, donors cannot give more than $74,600 total for each two-year cycle to PACs and parties, and no more than $5,000 each calendar year to a single PAC. Because of the biennial cap, each donor is ultimately limited to the number of PACs to which he or she can contribute. If, therefore, the biennial cap is abolished, so too would this limit.

So how would this negate the force of limits imposed on individual candidate contributions (currently set at $2,600 per election), which aren’t even being considered in the McCutcheon case? Here’s the crux of Biersack’s argument: “One of the first things that would surely happen without overall limits would be a wave of newly created PACs focused on specific candidate’s campaigns…” In other words, candidate X, now limited by the number of income sources from which his campaign depends, would benefit from a potentially infinite number of nominally varied PACs, all of which would transfer some portion of its coffers to him.  Biersack again: “Without [biennial] limits, tens of thousands could become hundreds of thousands and hundreds of thousands could turn into millions….So much for $2,600 per election.”

So while it’s still possible the Supreme Court could reach beyond the scope of biennial limits and question other limits imposed by the FEC, it’s likely, according to Open Secrets, that it could achieve the same result with far less effort.  The biennial cap seems much like a keystone holding the other limits in place.  Pulling it out sends the whole edifice crumbling down.

It Takes an Outsider to Be an Insider

Monday, May 20th, 2013 by Geoffrey Lyons

ALL LEGISLATORS BENEFIT, to some extent, from out-of-state campaign contributions.  Some, however, practically rely on them.  OpenSecrets lists 66 legislators as “anomalies” in this respect: they get more than half of their support from beyond their state’s (or “territory’s” in the case of Congressman Faleomavaega) borders.  According to this metric, here are the ten most anomalistic* members of Congress:

Out of state funding

SOURCE: OpenSecrets.org Anomaly Tracker

*adj. – of or pertaining to a member of Congress who derives more than four fifths of his/her war chest from out-of-state donors.

Revolving door financially benefits staffers

Monday, September 27th, 2010 by Vbhotla

A recent academic study on the financial benefits that lobbyists draw from the practice of the “revolving door,” found that “Lobbyists with experience in the office of a US Senator suffer a 24% drop in generated revenue when that Senator leaves office.” The study found that committee assignments and length of time in office (things which add up to “influence”) also increase revenue for ex-staffers turned lobbyists.

The researchers point out that “While there is no scarcity of anecdotal evidence, direct econometric evidence on the extent to which previous officials are able to convert political contacts into lobbying revenue remains, to the best of our knowledge, non-existent.” But the study purports to provide such evidence. The authors point out that “measured in terms of median revenues per ex-staffer turned lobbyist, this estimate indicates that the exit of a Senator leads to approximately a $177,000 per year fall in revenues for each affiliated lobbyist.”

Several recent articles have pointed out the lobbyist potential for Hill staffers with close connections to members who may be in positions of even greater power after November, such as Reps. John Boehner, Eric Cantor, or Dave Camp, all Republicans who are in line for powerful House majority jobs should the chamber flip.

The researchers used several tools, including the Center for Responsive Politics’ database, Legistorm.com, and Lobbyists.info. The entire report is available at http://cep.lse.ac.uk/_new/publications/abstract.asp?index=3654.

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