Skip to content

Who’s Watching the Watchdog?

Since Republicans took control of Congress a decade ago, leading government watchdog groups have relentlessly pursued allegations of ethics broaches and fundraising abuses against GOP leaders ranging from retiring Rep. Nick Smith of Michigan to Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas. [IMGCAP(1)]

But the groups have gone comparatively easy on Democrats — and a recent look through campaign-finance figures shows that officials of five leading money-in-politics watchdogs have given money almost exclusively to Democrats since 1994, when Republicans took over Congress.

According to the nonpartisan PoliticalMoneyLine, officials at Common Cause, the Center for Responsive Politics, Democracy 21, Public Citizen and the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington have donated a total of $62,000 to Democrats over the past decade.

During the same period, the watchdog groups have given just $2,000 to Republicans.

Not surprisingly, the 31-to-1 ratio has irked many of the same Congressional Republicans who so often find themselves targeted by the public interest groups.

Said one House GOP leadership aide: “It’s seems ‘nonpartisan watchdog’ is Latin for ‘active Democrat contributor.’ Why they continue to get quoted as independent observers blows my mind.”

Contributions range from a $200 check sent by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook to the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to a $2,000 contribution by Center for Responsive Politics board member Abner Mikva to Illinois Senate hopeful Barack Obama.

Other political contributions include $500 from Mikva to the political action committee controlled by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); $1,000 from Democracy 21 board member Geoffrey Cowan to Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign; and a total of $956 given by newly named Common Cause President Chellie Pingree to a pair of Democratic causes in Maine.

By contrast, only two people affiliated with the groups gave to Republicans. Norman Eisen, an outside counsel to the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, gave $250 to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2000, while four Center for Responsive Politics board members gave modest checks to Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, then-Rep. Rick Lazio of New York and the Bush-Cheney compliance fund.

Collectively, the biggest donor among the groups was Democracy 21, whose officials have contributed a total of

$31,700 since 1994. The Center for Responsive Politics ranked second with nearly $22,000.

Though most of the contributions came from board members, not full-time employees, several top officials have longstanding personal ties to the Democratic Party.

In 2002, Pingree ran as a Democrat for a Senate seat in Maine; Mikva is a former Democratic House Member from Illinois; and Democracy 21 Chairman Dick Clark is a former Democratic Senator from Iowa.

NAB Taps Lobbyist. Rounding out its lobbying team, the National Association of Broadcasters has lured Mike Hershey to be a senior lobbyist from his perch as chief of staff to Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

As senior vice president for government relations, Hershey will report to John Orlando, the organization’s chief lobbyist. The move comes a week after NAB President and CEO Eddie Fritts signed a new two-year deal to head the powerful trade group.

Tyco Ad Campaign. In an effort to clean up its image, Tyco International last week launched a global print-advertising campaign under the theme “A vital part of your world.”

Tyco commissioned the campaign after company research found that consumers were unaware of the breadth of its products.

The effort is part of a broader public-relations campaign to remake the company’s image after former CEO Dennis Kozlowski was charged with using the company checkbook to fund millions of dollars in personal expenses.

Earlier this year, the company opened a Washington office and hired Fruzsina Harsanyi to begin restoring the firm’s name in Washington.

Joseph Forms Own Shop. Telecommunications lobbyist Kevin Joseph has formed his own lobbying shop after leaving bankrupt local phone company Allegiance Telecom.

Right off the bat, Kevin M. Joseph & Associates LLC will represent AT&T, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and Nextel. He is looking to sign up other clients with business before the Energy and Commerce and Judiciary committees.

Joseph has a long history in telecommunications policy on Capitol Hill. Beginning in 1988, he worked as a telecommunications aide to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on the Energy and Commerce subcommittee telecommunications.

He later spent eight years as a senior counsel to Democratic Sens. Fritz Hollings (S.C.) and Daniel Inouye (Hawaii) on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, including extensive work on the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

In 1999, Joseph left Capitol Hill to become a lobbyist for AT&T and later for Allegiance Telecom, a Texas-based firm that filed for bankruptcy last year.

After Allegiance’s bankruptcy, Joseph turned down an offer to run the Washington office of another bankrupt local telecom carrier, XO Communications, to go out on his own in anticipation of a major effort to rewrite the Telecommunications Act on Capitol Hill next year.

When asked about the prospects for legislation next year, Joseph cited “growing momentum” for keeping phone calls over the Internet free from regulation.

“Depending on developments in the marketplace and on the regulatory front, we could see significant amendments to the act in the first session of Congress next year,” he said.

Comcast Adds Another. Cable giant Comcast has hired former Republican aide and current telecommunications lobbyist John Morabito to work in the firm’s Washington office.

Morabito moves to Comcast from Qwest Communications International. Earlier in his career, he was a telecommunications counsel to the Energy and Commerce Committee under former Chairman Tom Bliley (R-Va.).

Morabito succeeds Jessica Wallace, who joined Clear Channel Communications to replace Andy Levin, a top Democratic telecom aide on the Commerce Committee.

After leaving the Hill, Morabito worked for now-bankrupt Global Crossing before joining regional phone company Qwest.

Collier Shannon Adds Three. A trio of lawyers have been hired by the Washington law and lobbying firm Collier Shannon Scott.

Barry Pollack, a former federal public defender, joins the firm to focus on government investigations and criminal litigation of financial matters. Jill Samuels, who previously handled marketing and trade regulation for General Motors Corp., is joining the firm’s advertising and marketing team. And Matthew Nosanchuk, once an adviser to then-Attorney General Janet Reno, is leaving his position at the Violence Policy Center to work in Collier Shannon Scott’s public policy division.

More Moves. Former House aide Marcus Dunn is joining Patton Boggs, where he will specialize in defense and international relations … Rudy Barnes, who spent the past five years as legislative director for Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.), is Battelle’s new director of government relations for energy programs … America’s Community Bankers has tapped Dennis Hild, formerly of the Federal Reserve, to be its vice president for accounting and financial management policy, and named Gregory Mesack, former legislative director for Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), to be a senior lobbyist.