by Emily Kopp on March 12, 2014 8:00 AM
You have to know policy, wrangle with legislative language, persuade important people of the rightness of your cause, market yourself to clients. And then, for many on K Street, there's another key part of the job: pulling out your checkbook. Federal lobbyists are often campaign contributors, too -- sometimes offering, sometimes responding to not-so-subtle requests.
Or, as sixth-ranking lobbyist-donor Ben Barnes put it, "I think anyone could be sanctimonious and say they're donating for the love of their country, but how you make a living has something to do with it." Barnes, whose clients include Texas A&M University, Texas Gulf Energy and Huntsman Corp., has long been a fixture of Democratic politics in Texas, and is a top bundler for congressional campaigns. So far in this cycle, he has given out about $79,000.
Lobbyists rank 13th among all interest groups in contributions so far in the 2014 campaigns, a jump from 22nd at the end of the 2012 cycle. Individual lobbyists contributed far more than lobbying firms' PACs -- 22 times as much.
Overall, super PACs have received a pitiful 2 percent of lobbyists' donations so far, a dip from their 7 percent share in 2012.
An array of clients -- unions excepted
Among our top 25 contributors, 24 work for a lobbying or law firm or for a consulting group. Their major clients include household names like General Electric, Caterpillar and Microsoft.
Fifteen of our top 25 represent firms in the insurance industry, while 14 count pharmaceutical firms among their clients. Altogether the top lobbyist-donors are associated with 65 different industries in 12 sectors. Labor is the only industry not represented by even one of the the top 25.
Together this band of lobbyists represented 481 discrete clients in 2013, about 19 clients per lobbyist.
The exception? Nicholas Calio, a former aide to President George W. Bush, who lobbies in-house at Airlines for America, a trade association that spent nearly $8.5 million lobbying in 2013.
The technology sector is well represented by this coalition. General Electric, Microsoft, Intuit Inc. and Blackberry each number four clients among the group. Seven lobbyists of our top 25 represent Blue Cross/Blue Shield, while five represent the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group of power companies.
Kenneth Kies is the top lobbyist-donor so far this time around, having given close to $140,000. Together with his wife, he's given nearly $200,000 to candidates and committees in the 2014 cycle, putting them 22nd among all donors. Kies, who years ago worked for two tax committees in Congress, is now with the lobbying firm Federal Policy Group, where his clients include the American Bankers Association, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Microsoft.
Party matters, again
There are deep partisan divisions among the top 25. Sixteen of them gave exclusively to one party or the other: Five donated solely to Republicans, 11 gave only to Democrats. Some who work at the same firm were diametrically opposed in their giving patterns: Capitol Counsel LLC's Sharon Finley funneled all of her contributions to Democrats, while 100 percent of her partner Jeffrey Walter's donations went to the GOP.
The nine who divided their donations showed strong party preferences too, though. Even the two most even-handed donors contributed $4 to one party for every $1 they gave the other. James D. Massie donated $44,000 to Democrats and $11,000 to Republicans; David E. Franasiak donated $51,000 to Republicans and $12,600 to Democrats.
In D.C., genuine friendships often overlap with relationships built on mutual favors. Add the fact that many well-paid lobbyists once worked in congressional and agency offices where they still know people and it can be especially hard to tease out the motivations behind any single donation.
"If I only donated for the good of my firm or business I wouldn't have donated to candidates that I knew had no chance. But I knew it was important for them to have a voice," one lobbyist on the list told OpenSecrets Blog. His belief that a Democratic majority is better for the country "animates my giving," he said.
Another lobbyist on the list was more pragmatic. He favors the pro-business stance of Republicans and hopes they take control of the Senate and then the White House. At the same time, "this is politics, and you have to participate in the system," he acknowledged in an interview.
Lobbyists prefer incumbents, bolster embattled Democrats
Federally registered lobbyists have spread $18 million in contributions among over 100 candidates and members of Congress so far in the 2014 cycle, with donations tilting to the right: $7.4 million has gone to Democrats, $8.35 million to Republicans. Super PACs received a very small share, only about $71,000.
About 93 percent of lobbyists' total spending has gone to incumbents, and much of it has gravitated to just a few veteran lawmakers in the leadership. While lobbyists aim for access, they love stability, not eager to have to forge new relationships every election cycle.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio)
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska)
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)
Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.)
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who faces a primary challenge, has received the most from lobbyists in the midterm cycle so far, more than $281,000. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is a close second at $278,380.