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K Street Donors Not So Kind to Members’ Charities

Lobbyists appear to be significantly cutting back on the money they give to support the favored charities of Members of Congress, one of the long-standing ways firms have curried favor with powerful Members.

Lobbying firms and their clients disclosed spending less than $10.4 million on Congressional charity events, meetings and gifts in the last half of 2010, according to a disclosure reports filed at the end of January. These expenditures are less than half of what was spent during the same period in 2008. It is also the fourth six-month period in a row that the gifts have declined.

One note of caution with the figures is that there has been some confusion about which donations lobbying firms are required to disclose. As a result, the totals include everything from a donation to a foundation sponsored by or affiliated with a Member of Congress to an annual trade association dinner where a Member receives an award. Some lobbying firms are also reporting attendance fees at events where they met with a Member.

Campaign finance analysts pointed to new transparency laws as a major reason for the decline in lobbying spending to meet and honor Members of Congress. Lobbying forms have been required to report their donations to Members’ charities only since 2008.

“I suspect it is because the lobbying profession has come under much greater scrutiny and negative publicity of the last couple years,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the public interest group Public Citizen. “Too bad that we didn’t have this reporting requirement in effect since 2000.”

Holman said Members do not like the bad press associated with these large corporate donations, which could be why K Street donors seem to be switching to “clean events” that support institutional Congressional organizations and caucuses instead of individual lawmakers.

For instance, lobbying organizations paid out more than $3.8 million in honorary donations and “meeting expenses” — akin to attendance fees — to branches of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus during the last six months of 2010. This accounted for more than a third of all disclosed honorary and meeting expenses during that time.

Other signs that lobbyists are shifting donations away from charities linked to current lawmakers can be seen in rising donations to presidential libraries. Lobbying organizations gave more than $17.5 million to presidential libraries in 2010, which is 10 times more than they donated in 2008. Those getting the most money from K Street last year were the libraries of Presidents Ronald Reagan, with almost $10.7 million, George W. Bush, with more than $6.1 million, and John F. Kennedy, with $500,000.

While 2010 was a lean year on K Street — Roll Call reported last week that total lobbying spending dropped last year for the first time in a decade — there were still a few Members and their charities that were richly supported by lobbying groups. Among them were House Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and his research and scholarship foundation, with 25 donations totaling $354,000 during the last six months of 2010. Others were Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who had 18 expenditures made in his honor totaling $294,000, and Sen. Tom Harkin, (D-Iowa), with six donations totaling $218,000. Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton’s family foundation also received $15,000 from AT&T and the Health Care Service Corp. while California Democratic Rep. Joe Baca’s foundation received contributions totaling $9,000 from companies such as Nike Inc., Rentech Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates also continued to be one of the top recipients of K Street’s generosity. Since July 2010, defense contractors spent $312,000 on events to honor Gates, including $100,000 from IBM and $50,000 each from by BAE Systems, Raytheon Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. In all, the eight defense contractors that disclosed spending on behalf of Gates received more than $108.6 billion in contracts during the 2010 fiscal year — nearly 30 percent of the Pentagon’s budget.

In the last half of the year, several major companies including Exxon Mobil Corp., JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Wal-Mart spent more than $500,000 in donations honoring Members.

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