Lawmakers Get Less K Street Largess

Presidential Library Donations Increase, but Money to Honor Members Dips

Posted August 4, 2010 at 6:25pm

Lobbyists and their clients are spending less money this year to celebrate Members and their pet causes.

During the first six months of 2010, K Street expenditures on behalf of lawmakers, other federal officials and candidates fell to $11.3 million, according to a CQ MoneyLine analysis of lobbying contribution reports filed with Congress.

This all-time low in spending since disclosure began in 2008 represents a decrease of more than 50 percent since its high of $22.9 million during the second half of 2009.

Some additional late filings in the weeks after the July 30 deadline could increase the total amount, but it probably won’t affect the total by much. In previous filings, lobbying clients disclosed an average of $1.7 million in such spending after the due date.

While federal laws limit the amount of money that individuals and groups can contribute to Congressional campaigns, there are no restrictions on donations to lawmakers’ favorite causes, charities and institutions. The disclosures also cover the expenses of lobbying organizations to host meetings and events where they honor Members or other high-level officials.

Congress approved the new disclosure laws after a series of ethics controversies, including some that involved lobbyists who had contributed to lawmakers’ pet causes. Before the measure took effect in 2008, such donations were private.

Despite the decrease this year, it’s difficult to draw long-term conclusions.

“We don’t have enough experience with this disclosure law to say that a drop in one particular period reflects a trend in less disclosure,” said Jan Baran, who heads the election law and government ethics group at Wiley Rein. Baran added that there could be fewer events that are subject to disclosure and that some previous large one-time donations could be throwing the statistics off.

One such large single donation includes a $5 million contribution from pharmaceutical company Amgen in February 2009 on behalf of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), now deceased, to build the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston.

Not all K Street spending on government officials has declined in 2010.

Commencement speeches and honorary degrees for Members of Congress appear just as popular as ever, with colleges and universities spending more than $2.5 million on honorary events during the past six months.

And the amount clients and firms spent to help foot the bills for presidential libraries hit a high of more than $1.3 million during the first six months of 2010 — largely because of one donation from AT&T Services.

The telecommunications giant contributed $1 million to the George W. Bush Presidential Library, which is set to go up near Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Others that received contributions from various entities during the past six months include the Boston-based John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, which collected $252,000, and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark., with more than $46,000.