A new report by Public Citizen titled “The Bankrollers: Lobbyists’ Payments to the Lawmakers they Court, 1998-2006” details the amounts given to members of Congress since 1998 by the 50 biggest lobbyist money-givers. Twenty-seven percent of lobbyists have contributed an amount to lawmakers large enough to be recognized by the Federal Election Commission ($200 or more), and a select 6.1 percent of lobbyists have contributed at least $10,000 – totaling 83.4 percent of all lobbyist contributions. Many of the top recipients of congressional campaign money are on appropriations committees that dole out federal money. The report also records the rise of contributions by lobbyists from $17.8 million in the 2000 election cycle to $33.9 million in the 2004 cycle – a 90.3 percent increase. In the 2006 election, lobbyists and their PACs are already on track to give about 10 percent more than in the previous cycle. In addition to contributions that come directly from lobbyists, the report also details how lobbyists coordinate fundraisers for lawmakers under the premise that it will bring a steady stream of contributions from their corporate clients that will in turn influence policy.
The report also contains some information on interactions between lobbyists and Michigan’s Representatives and Senators. Michigan’s Senate delegation has accepted $232,210 in average contributions per member (37th out of the 50 states), while Michigan’s House delegation ranks 9th with an average of $145,929 per member. Current Senator Carl Levin has received $100,394 from lobbyists since 1998 making him the 88th ranked Senator in terms of total contributions. In contrast, Senator Stabenow, who has been in the Senate a considerably short amount of time, is ranked 40th with $364,026 in contributions from lobbyists. Area Republican Representatives Vern Ehlers and Pete Hoekstra have received $39,800 (ranked 313) and $67,738 (ranked 220), respectively. Michigan Democratic Representative John Dingell is ranked number 18th overall, having accepted $528,153 from lobbyists.
In addition to documenting the lobbying efforts, the report recommends that publicly financing campaigns as the only real remedy to lobbying abuses and scandals. While Congress is currently considering various ethics and lobby reform bills, none of them consider the possibility of publicly financing elections, nor do they take smaller steps recommended in the report. Those steps include preventing lobbyists from making contributions of greater than $200 per election to lawmakers’ campaign committees or from contributing more than $500 per election cycle to national parties or leadership PACs, the report says. It further argues that lobbyists should also be prevented from arranging contributions to federal candidates, serving as officials on candidate campaign committees and leadership PACs, funding events “honoring” members of Congress and contributing to foundations controlled by lawmakers.