By PAUL C. BARTON, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Lobbyists, including many with stakes in her Senate Appropriations Committee work, play a key role in financing Sen. Dianne Feinstein's re-election.
They rank as the second-leading "industry" giving to her 2012 campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan Washington research group that tracks political dollars.
Feinstein, D-San Francisco, has so far received contributions from 218 lobbyists who are active on issues ranging from renewable fuels and advanced fighter jets to Internet gambling, the center's data show.
Many of them rank among Washington's most influential, and they lobby for corporations as varied as General Electric, General Motors, BP America, ExonMobil, Goldman Sachs, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin. Many also represent interests of California cities and counties.
Some congressional watchdog groups consider campaign contributions from lobbyists "particularly problematic" because they come from individuals who make their living seeking access and influence.
Others, however, say these contributions don't change lawmakers' positions. Instead, they are given as a sign of agreement with their positions.
Feinstein's office said what lobbyists want is not what matters most to her.
"Senator Feinstein evaluates legislation and public policy based on what is best for California and the country," said spokesman Brian Weiss.
Lobbyists also rank among the top groups of contributors to most of the incumbent senators seeking re-election this fall, according to center. And they ranked among the top 10 sources of contributions for Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Rancho Mirage, when she won re-election in 2010.
"Senator Boxer has spent her entire career standing up to powerful special interests and fighting for California's families," spokesman Peter True said. "Her record of working to protect consumers, seniors, children and the environment speaks for itself."
Of the $7.5 million Feinstein has raised for her 2012 campaign committee and her political action committee, $357,733 has come from lobbyists. Among industry groups, that ranks second only to the $449,094 she's received from lawyers and law firms.
Her opponent, Republican Elizabeth Emken of Danville, an advocate for developmentally disabled children, has only $327,686 from all sources. Most of it -- $200,000 -- comes from her own money she is loaning to herself.
Feinstein and Emken won the right to face off against each other in November by finishing first and second respectively in California's new combined-party primary in June. Feinstein got 2,071,501 votes (49.4 percent), compared to Emken's 530,423 (12.6 percent). They were among nearly two dozen candidates.
Seeking her fifth Senate term, Feinstein, 79, sits on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which controls how federal funds are doled out among projects and programs.
Her position and tenure make her a prime target for contributions from some of Washington's most high-profile lobbyists and lobbying firms.
Some of those giving to Feinstein include:
- H. Stewart Van Scoyoc: Van Scoyoc is consistently rated as one of Washington's top lobbyists by Capitol Hill publications. Contributions from individuals at Van Scoyoc Associates: $22,300.
- Anthony Podesta: Older brother of John Podesta, who was chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton, Anthony Podesta has been ranked as high as No. 3 among the capital's Top 50 lobbyists by Washingtonian magazine. The New York Times called his lobbying firm, the Podesta Group, "one of Washington's biggest players." Contributions from individuals at the Podesta Group: $10,000.
- Heather Podesta: Wife of Anthony Podesta and sister-in-law to the former White House chief of staff, she too has been ranked among the city's top lobbyists by Washingtonian. Contributions from individuals at Heather Podesta and Partners: $2,000.
- Harold M. Ickes: Former deputy White House chief of staff under Clinton, Ickes is also the son of Harold L. Ickes, who served as Franklin Roosevelt's secretary of the Interior. Contributions from individuals at Ickes and Enright: $1,000.
- Thomas Boggs Jr.: Son of former Rep. Hale Boggs of Louisiana, Boggs has been called "the king" of Washington lobbyists and was rated No. 1 on Washingtonian's list in 2007. He is also the brother of political commentator Cokie Roberts. Contributions from individuals at Patton Boggs: $9,500.
- Vic Fazio: A former longtime House member from California, Fazio once headed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the House Democratic Caucus. Rated one of the capital's top lobbyists by The Hill and other publications. Contributions from individuals at his firm, Akin, Gump, et. al.: $16,000.
- Linda Daschle: Wife of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, she is also a former deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. She also made Washingtonian's Top 10. Contributions from individuals at LHD & Associates: $4,500.
In her work on the Senate Appropriations Committee, one of her subcommittees Feinstein sits involves funding for defense projects.
Disclosure forms show that lobbyists listing defense spending as one of their "issue areas" include Anthony Podesta, Heather Podesta, Daschle, Van Scoyoc and Ickes, as well as John Breaux, former Democratic senator from Louisiana and former senior member of the Senate Finance Committee; Michael S. Berman of the Duberstein Group, named for Kenneth Duberstein, chief of staff to former president Ronald Reagan; Walter L. Raheb of RR&G, who personally has given her $5,000; and Lawrence C. Grossman of the Grossman Group, who has given her $4,900.
Feinstein also accepts contributions from lobbyists who work on issues that could impact the business interests of her husband, San Francisco financier Richard Blum.
Blum runs a private equity firm that invests heavily in for-profit colleges, including Career Education Corp. Anthony Podesta's firm lobbies on behalf of Career Education, while Fazio at Akin, Gump et. al. lobbies on behalf of the Private Equity Growth Capital Council, which is concerned about regulatory and tax issues affecting private equity firms.
Despite her husband's involvement in the industry, Feinstein frequently acts against the wishes of private equity firms, said Weiss, her spokesman.
He cited her push for speedy implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory bill, legislation full of provisions that worry the Private Equity Growth Capital Council. Weiss also said Feinstein supports the "Buffet Rule," named after billionaire Warren Buffet, that would impose higher taxes on the millionaires and billionaires that often run private equity firms.
Regardless, congressional watchdog groups such as Public Citizen consider contributions from lobbyists "particularly problematic," says Craig Holman, who monitors ethics issues for the organization.
"Lobbyists are professional advocates with a permanent presence on Capitol Hill who make extensive and even daily use of campaign contributions and fundraisers specifically for the purpose of furthering their access and influence (with) policymakers."
But Lara Brown, political scientist at Villanova University, has a different view.
"Money follows votes a lot more than it ever attempts to buy them," she said. "Lobbyists, like others who donate politically, are merely buying access to the officeholder -- they hope that the officeholder will make time for them in their busy schedule - not votes."
A lobbyist who has given $500 to Feinstein is Howard Marlowe, who is also president of the American League of Lobbyists, a professional group.
Marlowe said his firm, Marlowe and Co., often keeps contributions to lawmakers low. They are given as a "thank you" or sign of appreciation for "the work they are doing," he said.
While lobbyists giving to congressional campaigns "is all perfectly legal," Marlowe said, he remains concerned about lawmaker-lobbyist interactions not disclosed to the public, such as their meetings at the countless daily congressional fundraising events in Washington.
Such discussions do not have to be disclosed even though "it is commonplace to be discussing policy issues (at fundraisers)," Marlowe said.
In a document that cites the "unprecedented level of public distrust" directed at Congress and lobbyists, Marlowe's group calls for stricter disclosure requirements for their profession and "developing a standard definition of what constitutes lobbying when engaging with legislative branch officials."
Such changes are necessary, it states because the "registered lobbyist is oftentimes seen by the public, elected officials and the media as a convenient scapegoat for all sorts of issues related to Congress' low approval ratings."
What lobbyists' donations mean:
When lobbyists donate to a candidate, some contend it's effectively a donation on behalf of the interests they represent.
"Donors have a foot in the door," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.
She added that it gives them "a leg up on the competition that hasn't given and for lobbyists, the benefit extends to the clients they plan to speak to the member about. It's the way Washington -- or at least Capitol Hill -- works."
Feinstein's office denies this, and Krumholz said, "She may be the rare exception, but members -- just like the rest of us -- don't want to appear ungrateful to their supporters; it's human nature."
Many of the Washington lobbyists who give to Feinstein have extensive client lists.
Take for example Michael S. Berman, president of The Duberstein Group. Berman has given $2,500 to Feinstein.
Berman's clients include: Comcast Corp., Chesapeake Energy, The Business Roundtable, BP America, America's Health Insurance Plans, Broadridge Financial Solutions, Accenture, CSX Corporation, Federation of Korean Industries, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Grocery Manufacturers Association, Hanesbrands, Honeywell International, Health Net, Bank of New York Mellon and United Airlines.
Contact Paul C. Barton at firstname.lastname@example.org