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Profile: Sunlight Foundation

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Bloomberg News counts up the number of lobbyists the health care industry is funding to pressure lawmakers to oppose or support the reform legislation proposed by Congressional Democrats and the White House. It finds that some 3,300 lobbyists—six for each of the 535 representatives and senators weighing the issue—are working to convince lawmakers to take their clients’ position on the health care reform package. Over 1,500 organizations, from pharmaceutical firms and medical providers to “grassroots” organizations and citizens’ groups, employ the lobbyists, with three new organizations signing up each day, and each of the 10 largest Washington lobbying firms is involved in the effort. The groups spent a combined amount of $263.4 million on lobbying Congress during the first six months of 2009, exceeding the $241.1 million spent during the same period in 2008. The Sunlight Foundation’s Bill Allison says, “Whenever you have a big piece of legislation like this, it’s like ringing the dinner bell for K Street,” referring to the Washington street where many lobbying firms have offices. “There’s a lot of money at stake and there are a lot of special interests who don’t want their ox gored.” Most lobbyists assume that health care reform is going to happen in some form or fashion, says John Jonas of the lobbying firm Patton Boggs LLP. “They assume health care reform is going to happen and they want to be protected,” he says. Jonas’s firm has three dozen clients in the debate, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Wal-Mart. Many lawmakers, such as Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), the Senate Finance Committee chairman, see lobbyists every day. Baucus’s office rotates between different schools of lobbyists, seeing representatives of health care providers one week, purchasers the second, and consumers the third. Larry McNeely of the US Public Interest Research Group says, “The sheer quantity of money that’s sloshed around Washington is drowning out the voices of citizens and the groups that speak up for them.” [Bloomberg, 8/14/2009]

Entity Tags: Max Baucus, Bloomberg News, Bill Allison, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Larry McNeely, Senate Finance Committee, John Jonas, Wal-Mart, Sunlight Foundation, US Public Interest Research Group, Patton Boggs LLP

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

The Sunlight Foundation’s Ellen Miller posts a scathing criticism of the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision (see January 21, 2010) on the Foundation’s blog. Miller writes that the implications of the decision “are breathtaking—opening the floodgates of political money such as we have never seen before. If you thought Congress was ‘for sale’ to the highest bidder, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Nothing less than a fundamental rethinking of our campaign finance laws is demanded as a result of today’s decision.” Miller writes that transparency in donations and funding is not “a panacea for the horrific consequences of today’s decision, it is critically important as the shredded system is rebuilt. Today’s decision underscores the necessity of creating comprehensive real-time disclosure for all election spending—across the board—from when and how often candidates, individuals, and PACs report their contributions and expenditures to those involved in independent expenditures, issue ads, or direct election advocacy.” Miller focuses on the portion of the majority opinion that claimed Internet-based disclosure is sufficient to keep the public informed about campaign finance practices. The opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, held: “With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters. Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.… This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.… [M]odern technology makes disclosures rapid and informative.… A campaign finance system that pairs corporate independent expenditures with effective disclosure has not existed before today.” Miller agrees, but notes that “the disclosure system [Kennedy] describe[s] doesn’t yet exist. The current disclosure system is insufficiently ‘rapid and informative’ and does not make effective use of modern technology.” Miller predicts a “tidal wave of corporate campaign expenditures” that will not be exposed or held accountable by the current disclosure system. “The quarterly reporting system now in place is outdated and ineffective—ridiculous, in a word.” Miller concludes: “[T]his decision should trigger momentum toward ensuring that all election-related information is available online in real-time. Disclosure remains a crucial antiseptic to the corrupting influence of money in politics. We should ensure our system is as transparent as possible.” [Ellen Miller, 1/21/2010]

Entity Tags: Anthony Kennedy, US Supreme Court, Sunlight Foundation, Ellen Miller

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

According to data reported by the Sunlight Foundation, Crossroads GPS, the organization raising and spending money on behalf of Republican candidates in the presidential election, reported spending $500,000 on ads attacking President Obama in Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, and Missouri. Those ads are somewhat countered by $36,000 of ads aired by Planned Parenthood Action Fund in Florida and Michigan. Under campaign finance law, groups such as these are not required to reveal their donors, though they are required to periodically reveal to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that the ads have been bought, and how much was spent on them. One of Crossroads GPS’s ads accuses Obama of funneling government money to failed projects such as solar panel maker Solyndra, and ignoring those laid off by these companies. The Planned Parenthood ad lauds Obama for protecting access to affordable birth control. Crossroads GPS is a veteran in the post-Citizens United campaign finance world, having spent some $16 million in the 2010 elections, while the Planned Parenthood group is a relatively new player in the field, making its first expenditures on behalf of House candidate Kathy Hochul in 2011. [Sunlight Foundation, 2/7/2012]

Entity Tags: Planned Parenthood Action Fund, American Crossroads GPS, Barack Obama, Solyndra Corporation, Federal Election Commission, Sunlight Foundation, Kathleen Hochul

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections

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