Lobbyist bundling: Money pipeline for Democrats 

Lobbyists bundling campaign contributions, often from clients, to pass on to powerful politicians is exactly the sort of corruption Democrats came to power promising to fight. But the lobbyists doing the most bundling, and the politicians pocketing the cash, tend to be Democrats, a recent study shows.

A study by the Center for Public Integrity finds that the top four lobbyists in terms of bundling contributions for federal candidates and committees are powerful Democrats who contributed and raised cash exclusively to elect Democrats. These lobbyists' big business clients stand to benefit from Democratic policies on health care, the environment and trade.

Bundlers are a creature of campaign finance laws that limit an individual's contributions to candidates and campaign committees. Candidates need more donors, and heavy hitters need new ways to show the magnitude of their love for a party or a politician. So we get "bundlers," volunteer fundraisers who deliver bundles of checks. A 2007 law requires (limited) disclosure by campaigns of bundled cash received from lobbyists. The nonpartisan CPI has compiled this data over the past year and ranked the lobbyists by amount bundled since the 2008 elections.

The data -- with four Democrats atop the list and seven Dems in the top 10 -- doesn't square with the Democrats' self-styled image as the scourges of K Street.

Ben Barnes is the king of lobbyist-bundlers, raising $642,000 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. A former House speaker and lieutenant governor in Austin, Barnes has been near the center of Democratic Party power for five decades. His clients include taxpayer-owned automaker General Motors.

Tony Podesta, although only the No. 2 bundler, may be the top Democratic power player. Podesta raised $395,000 for Democrats last year, including $143,000 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, $102,000 for its Senate counterpart and $78,400 for vulnerable Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Podesta is not only a Democratic insider, he is an Obama administration insider. Podesta's brother and the co-founder of the Podesta Group lobbying firm is John Podesta, who was Obama's transition director, and whose liberal activist group/think tank, the Center for American Progress, has been a valuable ally of the Obama administration. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius attended Tony's 65th birthday party last year.

Tony's lobbying has been closely allied with the Obama administration's agenda. Tony represents Wal-Mart, which joined with CAP last summer to give health care reform an early boost by endorsing an employer mandate in health insurance.

The Podesta Group represents drugmakers such as Novartis, which were powerful allies and big winners in the health care fight. Tony's firm also represents Duke Energy and BP, which support cap-and-trade climate regulation.

Boeing, another Podesta Group client, will likely be the prime beneficiary of Obama's plan to expand the Export-Import Bank, a federal agency that gives most of its subsidy dollars to Boeing. Podesta also bundled $41,000 for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., known as "The Senator from Boeing" for her dedication to her state's largest private employer.

The bronze medal, with $252,000 bundled -- all for the DCCC -- goes to Brian L. Wolff, a lobbyist for the Edison Electric Institute, another key partner in the Democrats' big business-big government project. EEI is at the center of negotiations over climate change legislation. The lobby, which represents investor-owned utilities, went along with the House's climate bill, requesting some tweaks -- such as price controls on carbon credits and more free credits for utilties -- which have appeared in the Senate bill.

So Wolff raises massive funds to keep Democrats in the majority while lobbying a Democratic Congress -- successfully, so far -- for legislation that will profit his employer and impose new costs on consumers. Because Wolff's beneficiaries are Democrats and his lobbying is "green," this arrangement avoids scrutiny from the big liberal press.

Trailing Wolff in the K Street-bundler power rankings is Vincent Roberti, a close ally of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for whom Wolff bundled $18,000, in addition to $200,000 combined for the DCCC and DSCC. Roberti is a founding principal at Navigators, a K Street firm. His clients there include GM, bailed-out Citigroup, UPS and AT&T.

There are Republicans on this list, such as No. 5, Tripp Baird, an alumnus of Capitol Hill who bundled $210,000. But the Democratic dominance of the top tier of lobbyist-bundlers shows us that money is still the mother's milk of politics -- even when Democrats wield the gavel.

Timothy P. Carney, the Examiner's lobbying editor, can be reached at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. He writes an op-ed column that appears on Friday.


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