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Most lobbyist money going to Dems
Posted 10/4/2009 11:06 PM ET
WASHINGTON — Fundraising by Washington lobbyists so far this year has chiefly benefited the Democratic Party, according to a USA TODAY analysis of campaign finance reports available for the first time under a new ethics law.

Federal lobbyists helped collect more than $3.7 million during the first six months of 2009, and nearly $2.3 million went to Democrats, the analysis shows. The party now controls both chambers of Congress and the White House.

There are no limits on how much lobbyists can deliver to lawmakers and party committees through "bundling" — collecting contributions from friends, family and colleagues — as they work to shape federal policy in their clients' favor.

Bundling "is another tool of influence for lobbyists," who otherwise are limited like all contributors to donating no more than $2,400 per primary or general election to a federal candidate, said Dave Levinthal, of the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. "It's one thing to give a contribution of $4,800 for a primary and general election," he said. "It's an entirely different thing to bundle together half a million dollars."

The campaign committee working to elect Democrats to the Senate was the largest beneficiary of lobbyist bundling, reporting nearly $732,000 in such donations this year.

Eric Schultz, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said his party deserves credit for disclosing the bundling. "It took Democrats seizing control of Congress to pass the strongest ethics and lobbying reform in history," he said in an e-mail. "All of our fundraising is fully transparent and follows the law."

Among those bundling for Democrats: lobbyist Anthony Podesta, whose Podesta Group reported more than $11.8 million in lobbying fees so far this year. Clients include Google, Wal-Mart and drugmaker Amgen.

During the same period, Podesta collected more than $74,000 for Democratic committees and members, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, reports show.

"I don't think there's any member of Congress who has taken a position because I've bundled for them. That's not the way it works," Podesta said.

Lobbyists also bundled on behalf of Republicans, delivering nearly $409,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee alone, the reports show.

T. Martin Fiorentino, a lobbyist in Jacksonville whose clients include AT&T and railway giant CSX Transportation, collected nearly $140,000 to aid Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for the Senate in 2010.

Fiorentino said there was no "correlation there whatsoever" between his lobbying work and fundraising for Crist, whom he described as a longtime friend.

The bundling reports were mandated under a 2007 law passed after Democrats took control of Congress. The requirement went into effect this year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged the ethics changes would reverse a "culture of corruption" in Washington.

Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said "the law is working as intended. It provides disclosure and transparency that did not previously exist."

Watchdog groups, such as the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation, however, say loopholes persist. Lobbyists have to collect more than $16,000, for example, before the reporting requirement kicks in. The reports also don't include information about people from whom lobbyists collect contributions.

Lobbyist donations

Source: Federal Election Commission

Posted 10/4/2009 11:06 PM ET