K Street Files: Big Business Fights Majority on Campaign Bill

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Calls Democrats' Citizens United Measure an Attack on Freedom of Speech

Posted May 25, 2010 at 6:03pm

U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Bruce Josten predicts there’s little chance that a Democratic-backed campaign finance bill, which his group opposes, will reach President Barack Obama’s desk this year.

“They clearly lack the necessary votes in the Senate,” Josten said Tuesday morning. “For most Senators, this is a problematic piece of legislation on both sides of the aisle.”

Despite that confidence, Josten’s organization will continue its attack on the measure.

Speaking to reporters at the chamber’s downtown headquarters, Josten sketched out the organization’s ongoing assault against the DISCLOSE Act, legislation designed to blunt the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision.

In its 5-4 ruling in January, the high court threw out most restrictions on political advertising paid for by corporations, trade associations and other nonprofit organizations.

While Josten said the DISCLOSE bill may pass the House, he predicted that it will wither in the Senate. He said the motivations of the bill’s primary authors, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and ex-Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), are clearly aimed at the chamber and other Republican-leaning organizations that invest heavily in political spending.

“The bill places onerous restrictions on corporate free speech, violating the First Amendment, and … ignores completely the immense political influence of organized labor,” he said.

Josten added: “The purpose here, it seems to us, is to hobble associations that give a voice to their members’ views in the political process and in the policymaking process. … It appears to be an attempt to fix election rules to give organized labor and Democratic incumbents particularly the upper hand.”

And perhaps offering a glimpse at how he’s selling the chamber’s opposition to the bill, Josten compared the DISCLOSE Act to another contentious piece of legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act. The chamber’s primary legislative villain of the 2008 elections, the pro-union “card check” bill has been relegated to the Congressional back burner since the election of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) ended the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority earlier this year.

“To us, this is very similar to card check,” Josten said. “It’s not lost on the business community that this is changing the rules in the middle of the game to clearly benefit one side and to clearly disadvantage one side’s voice.”

Freshmen in the Green

Vulnerable House Democratic freshmen are making the most of their ties to the financial sector, a new report by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington claims.

According to the CREW study provided to K Street Files, freshman Democratic Reps. Alan Grayson (Fla.), Jim Himes (Conn.), John Adler (N.J.) and Gary Peters (Mich.) and their fellow Financial Services Committee freshmen outraised their other underclassman colleagues by 55 percent.

According to CREW’s research, Financial Services freshmen raised an average of $140,000 from the political action committees of investment banks, insurance companies and real estate firms. In contrast, freshmen who did not sit on the panel brought in roughly $25,000 from industry PACs, the group’s research discovered.

“Why the financial services industry would want to invest in freshmen with seats on the Financial Services Committee is no mystery. The financial services industry is one of the more heavily regulated sectors of the American economy,” a CREW memo states. “With additional regulation pending but still un-passed, and expensive campaigns lurking just over the horizon, it is an opportune moment for industry representatives to shower vulnerable freshmen with campaign cash, paving the way for long and fruitful relationships.”

Sugarcane Deal Turns Sour

The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association, or UNICA, had planned a sweet deal Tuesday for people filling their tanks at two Capitol Hill Exxon stations: a discount of 54 cents per gallon of gasoline. But that was before the Capitol Petroleum Group canceled the event just days before it was supposed to go forward.

Joel Velasco, UNICA’s chief representative in North America, said his group was planning to give consumers a discount equal to the tariff on imported ethanol as a symbolic gesture.

“Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kickoff of summer, and we wanted a way to help drivers at the pump while getting our message across,” said Velasco, whose organization is lobbying against the tariff.

The CPG defended its decision to put the kibosh on the event. Spokesman Jeff Sykes said in a statement that the “apparent purpose of the promotion is to bring attention to the political positions and legislative strategies of the sponsor with respect to ethanol taxes.”

“It is CPG’s policy that promotions urging political action are not appropriate activities to be held at CPG-owned stations,” he added.

UNICA hasn’t been deterred by the cancellation. The trade group is now doing an online giveaway of $5 gas cards, or about the equivalent of what people would have saved with the 54 cent discount, at sweeteralternative.com.

Bundles of Support

Federal Election Commission records out this week show Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf of Elmendorf Strategies raised $30,000 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in April.

Former top DCCC aide Brian Wolff, who’s now a lobbyist with the Edison Electric Institute, also brought in big bucks for the committee last month, bundling $63,300 for the DCCC in April, according to FEC records.

Raise for the Cure

A dozen lawmakers, including Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) are taking a break from using their names to raise campaign cash. Instead, they are lending their star-power to raise money to fight cancer.

They have signed on to help a fundraising event at Van Scoyoc Associates from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. today in support of Team Heather, which is participating in the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure on June 5 on the National Mall. Van Scoyoc Vice President Jeff Trinca and his wife, Kimberly, are members of the team, which is one of the top in terms of fundraising.

The group was formed for Heather Gardner, a 26-year-old Ohio woman who lost her battle with breast cancer in September 2002. The event will set you back less than a typical political fundraiser — individual admission runs $50 per person.

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