During a two-week period last fall, lobbyists representing a Korean trade association met with Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) or his aides five times, interspersing those meetings with $5,500 in contributions to his campaign.
A similar scenario played out in the office of Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) this spring when lobbyists representing foreign entities paid a fundraising consultant on behalf of the Senator, contributed $2,000 to his campaign and contacted him about a potential trip to the United Arab Emirates within a four-day span.
The data, culled from a Project on Government Oversight analysis of contacts and contributions made to members of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, show that Clyburn and Baucus are no different than the other lawmakers on the new panel. In the past year — before the super committee was formed — lobbyists representing foreign interests repeatedly contacted each of the 12 Members who now make up the panel and contributed a collective $30,000 to their campaigns.
That figure is chump change in comparison with the millions of dollars those lawmakers bring in every year. But while the POGO analysis shows no signs of wrongdoing, the timing of meetings, contributions and communication provide a glimpse at the techniques lobbyists use to grease Congressional wheels.
These details are publicly available thanks to the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires lobbyists working on behalf of foreign agents to file more extensive accounts of their activities, including the dates and the nature of specific contacts, than those representing domestic clients. These reports are held by the Department of Justice and include records of phone calls and copies of written communications and other supplemental materials that lobbyists give to Congressional offices.
The POGO study found that the primary issue of interest to the lobbyists contacting super committee members was free trade, including the pending trade deal with South Korea that President Barack Obama sent to Congress on Monday.
In February 2010, the Korea International Trade Association hired K Street giant Patton Boggs to push for the South Korea trade agreement, according to Justice Department records.
From Sept. 16 to Sept. 29 of that year, Clyburn aides met with the firm's lobbyists four times to talk about the FTA. On Sept. 22 and Sept. 23, lobbyists representing foreign interests at the firm wrote checks totaling $5,500 to Clyburn's campaign committees. Just a week later, on Sept. 30, Clyburn, whose district includes the Port of Charleston, personally sat down with the lobbyists to discuss the trade agreements.
Patrick Devlin, a spokesman for Clyburn, said the meetings are simply part of the Congressman's duties to his constituents.
"Their hopes and aspirations drive his service in Congress and on the super committee, not the influence of lobbyists or special interests," Devlin said. "He has always complied with all rules and the spirit and the letter of the law with regards to campaign financing disclosures and will continue to do so."
A year later, as the super committee held its first hearings, the firm wrote a letter to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) asking her to meet with its lobbyists and South Korea's ambassador, highlighting her "crucial role" in the "deficit reduction discussions."