Dems outpace GOP in lobbyist cash race

Grass-roots image trampled

The national political parties took more cash from lobbyists in the first half of 2011 than in any other six-month period on record, even during the wide-open election of 2008, and the Democratic Party’s committees have easily outpaced their GOP counterparts despite President Obama’s vilification of special-interest giving.

An analysis by The Washington Times found that the fundraising arms of the Democrats took in 30 percent more in lobbyist donations than Republicans in the first six months of this year, a lead but a significant drop since the heady days of 2008 and 2009 when Democrats dominated with ratios of 2-to-1 and 3-to-1, respectively. The figure is at odds with the grass-roots image that Democratic leaders have cultivated.

Congressional disclosures through June show the Republicans’ fundraising groups - the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee - received $1 million from lobbyists compared with $1.3 million taken in by the Democrats’ committees this year.

In 2008, candidate Barack Obama barred his party’s main fundraising unit, the Democratic National Committee (DNC), from accepting donations from lobbyists and political action committees (PACs) immediately after he became the party’s presidential nominee. But the move afforded political advantages while forgoing almost nothing, records show: Lobbyists hardly ever gave to the DNC to begin with and preferred to give more directly to its chamber-specific counterparts.

Lobbyists contributed $1.6 million to Democratic Party committees in the months before the ban and $1.7 million in that period a year later, indicating Mr. Obama’s oft-touted efforts to keep special interests at a distance have done little to curb their giving to Democrats.

“It’s hypocritical,” said Howard Marlowe, president of the American League of Lobbyists. “He’s found someone who’s got a couple percentage points lower [approval] than Congress and he’s going to pound away. … Meanwhile, all these folks absolutely love money from whatever source, as long as it’s legal.”

The midterm election landslide that gave Republicans control of the House also did little to dent the Democrats’ haul, but just spurred more giving to Republicans and led to the overall record giving by lobbyists.

The Democrats’ ability to keep the majority of lobbyist money flowing to their coffers could be in part because the NRCC has struggled to translate the seats it won into a sustained fundraising advantage from the population in general, or because the large class of GOP freshmen are less of a draw at insider fundraisers.

The NRCC and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) each raised about $33 million in the first half of this year, and the DCCC has outraised its Republican counterpart since that time.

But the giving patterns also illustrate why congressional Democrats have refused to follow the central party’s lead in eschewing lobbyist and corporate and labor contributions. The party committees are often neck-and-neck in funds raised, which they direct to swing districts for even tighter races.

In addition, an even richer source of funds than lobbyists is money from the PACs of companies and unions that lobby, a donation source that totaled $13 million in the first six months of this year.

Except for the DNC, all committees of both parties still take lobbyist and PAC money, and Democrats say disarming unilaterally would put them at an unfair disadvantage.

Going underground

Although the DNC ban may have plugged one hole, there is no shortage of other outlets for the money.

The 100 lobbyists and PACs of groups that lobby, which gave $1.3 million to the DNC in the months before the ban, have made 78,000 contributions to candidates and other groups since, including 271 to the DCCC and 246 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee totaling $5 million, The Times analysis showed.

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