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.
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.
"The minute people stop asking for our money, we may all say, 'Hallelujah' " Mr. Marlowe said.
A separate measure showed that while the DNC totals were always only a tiny chunk of the money to Democrats, any effect the ban had on contributions from lobbyists seems to have dissipated.
The DNC still can take money connected to government relations firms from former lawmakers turned "consultants," spouses of lobbyists, and others working in the influence industry who do not register as official lobbyists.
Independent tallies from the Center for Responsive Politics, which researches donors and their families, suggest that after a post-ban drop-off in which $109,000 connected to lobbying firms made its way to the DNC in all of 2009 and 2010 combined, the firms are back to their old ways.
Through September this year, $138,000 connected to lobbying firms had gone to the DNC, compared with $123,000 to the RNC - more than any other nonpresidential year in memory.
PACs rally with Republicans
The companies and unions that pay lobbyists to sway legislators also contribute to politicians directly through political action committees they control, and their contributions significantly outweigh those of the lobbyists' personal dollars.
The PACs of groups that lobby showered Democrats with dollars in 2008 and 2009, even though many of the businesses behind them would have preferred to see Republicans in charge. But they were quicker to turn on the Democrats as they were poised to lose their grip on Congress, giving more to Republicans on both the Senate and House sides in 2010 and so far this year.
The result of an increase in enthusiasm from business PACs accompanying the Republican revival coupled with many lobbyists' continued loyalty to Democrats is that groups that pay lobbyists and the lobbyists themselves have contributed more to political parties in the first half of this year than they have during that period of any other year after 2008, according to disclosures filed by lobbying firms to Congress.
All of the favors from those with material interests in certain legislation have been doled out even as Congress is on track to pass the fewest bills in years.
"There are numerous proposals to raise taxes, cut taxes, launch a new stimulus, cancel spending from the last stimulus and overhaul entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security," said Bill Allison, an analyst on government influence at the Sunlight Foundation. "In a dysfunctional Congress, lobbyists have to go to greater lengths to protect their clients' interests, let alone advance legislation that benefits them."
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