K Street Cash Buoys Clinton, Rubio in White House Bids

Posted February 2, 2016 at 4:05am

K Street cash is helping to pay campaign bills, but money from lobbyists may also haunt presidential contenders with ties to special interests as the White House race heads to New Hampshire and beyond.

Lobbyist bundlers, those donors who gather large-scale contributions from their networks of colleagues and friends, boosted the coffers of Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush in the last quarter of 2015, Federal Election Commission data show. But every candidate — even Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, who tout their status as Beltway outsiders — counts some support from federally registered lobbyists or PACs that employ them, according to recently filed reports by lobbyists who made campaign contributions.

Clinton and Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida, lead the pack in supporters on K Street among both bundlers and individual lobbyist donors, based on reports of federal campaign donations filed Monday by lobbyists with Congress. Cruz, the Texas senator who finished first in Iowa’s GOP caucuses Monday night, and second-place finisher Trump prickle the establishment wing of their party but still have lobbyists among their donors.

So did Sen. Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent running for the Democratic nomination, who rails against corporate interests.

Separate from the bundled donations, Clinton received almost $1 million from about 230 lobbyists in the second half of 2015 — more than all the major party candidates for president combined. Sanders, who narrowly lost to Clinton in Iowa, took home just $2,000 in K Street cash, according to reports filed by early Monday.

K Street is also backing familiar contenders, such as GOP Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who spent 18 years in the House. Though Kasich’s campaign did not disclose any lobbyist bundlers with the FEC, individual lobbyists reported about $90,000 in donations to his campaign. The latest GOP polling in New Hampshire shows Kasich in the hunt behind Trump and Cruz, along with Rubio, Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. 

“There’s a Kasich support network here in town,” said former Rep. Bob Walker, R-Pa., who runs the lobby shop Wexler Walker Public Policy and donated to his former House colleague. “The numbers in New Hampshire are giving people the belief that he can pull some substantial name identification out of a strong showing.” And that, Walker said, could provide momentum to Team Kasich in additional primaries and caucuses through early March.


Stretching Dollars and Campaigns

Neil Levesque, executive director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College, said the money-in-politics rage from voters on both sides of the aisle is helping the campaigns of Trump and Sanders, who is favored to win the Democratic primary in the Granite State next week. As they attack special interest money, the lobbyist money flowing into the campaigns of their opponents may sting.

Billionaire Trump has said he’s not susceptible to K Street pressure since he can fund his own campaign, and Sanders has poked fun at his fellow candidates, specifically Clinton, for their super PAC and corporate donors.

Sanders’ campaign put out a tongue-in-cheek news release last week on raising zero money for any super PAC,  even though he does have a super PACs supporting his candidacy. National Nurses United for Patient Protection, for example, raised more than $2 million and was on the ground in Iowa ahead of the caucuses to help Sanders — something Clinton’s camp has made sure to point out.

“Bernie doesn’t want billionaires’ money,” his spokesman Michael Briggs said. “He believes you can’t fix a rigged economy by taking part in the corrupt campaign finance system in which politicians take unlimited sums of money from Wall Street and other powerful special interests and then pretend it doesn’t influence them.”

Though it comes with strings attached, Levesque noted: “That lobbying money is going to sustain you to the convention — which might be helpful, particularly if you’re in the Republican ring.”

Both parties meet in late July to formally nominate their candidates to succeed President Barack Obama. 


Paid to Influence

While the nomination fights may not drag that long, lobbyist donations and super PAC cash can likely help many of the candidates stay afloat through the end of March when more than 30 states hold caucuses or primaries. Rubio, for example, had about $10 million cash on hand as of Jan. 1, while Bush had about $8 million — not including what was available from the super PACs aligned with them.

K Street money is a small fraction of the big fundraising hauls for the presidential campaigns, and it’s minuscule compared to the mega donations to super PACs from billionaires and Wall Street financiers. But the support from lobbyists and their networks of big donors can pay off, experts say.

“Lobbyists are always in campaigns, and it’s not always money — it’s frequently contributing time, going out helping organize the grassroots,” said James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University.

The K Street bundlers for Clinton’s presidential campaign included some of the Democratic Party’s biggest names in lobbying, including Tony Podesta of the Podesta Group, who helped the former secretary of State raise more than $75,000 in the last quarter of the year, and Capitol Counsel’s David Jones, who brought in nearly $160,000 for the campaign in the last quarter.

Former lawmakers — including Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who is now with the firm Van Ness Feldman, and Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn. — both helped Clinton raise money last year and were listed as bundlers on FEC reports.

“I spent 26 years asking people to contribute to my campaign, so I think it’s only fair to help others,” said Gordon, who retired in 2011 and is now with K&L Gates. He helped Clinton raise more than $18,000.

Rubio has at least five bundlers who helped boost his coffers by nearly $700,000 in last year’s final quarter thanks to help from Geoff Verhoff of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the largest lobbying firm in Washington, who raised just shy of $500,000.

Bush, who was the early favorite on K Street among bundlers and individual donors last year, still disclosed a big network of nearly a dozen lobbyist bundlers, including Dirk Van Dongen of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors and Ford lobbyist Ziad Ojakli. Bush received $130,000 from lobbyists in the second half of 2015, the lobbying contribution reports show. Though that was only about one-tenth of Clinton’s haul from lobbyists, Bush still took in more than Trump and Cruz from people who are paid to influence Congress and the administration. 

With all eyes on New Hampshire until the Feb. 9 primaries, insiders in the state said they’re accustomed to viewing ads paid for by outsiders.

“In New Hampshire, we’re used to people raising money elsewhere and then spending it here,” said Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center and a political science professor. “It just becomes noise to a great extent.”