The lobbying industry has donated $545,173 to 2020 presidential campaigns with nearly 80 percent going to Democratic candidates, even as many of those hopefuls vow not to take donations from lobbyists.
Over $114,498 of that has gone to President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Intelligence Committee to review impeachment investigation report Monday Comedian Rosanne Barr to speak at Trumpettes’ Gala at Mar-A-Lago Israeli, Palestinian business leaders seek Trump boost for investment project MORE’s re-election while the rest, $430,675, has been given to Democrats, including those who have dropped out of the race, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
The total is based on the Federal Election Commission data released on Oct. 16., through third-quarter 2019 fundraising.
The numbers paint a complicated picture. Democratic candidates and their progressive allies in the current cycle have put new scrutiny on lobbyists as well as on taking money from other special interest or corporate groups. But that hasn’t completely stopped the flow of money to candidates and campaigns.
K Street’s top ranks are filled with former Democrats, many with ties to the candidates. And watchdog groups say that while the focus is on federally registered lobbyists, donations from others tied to the industry, such as state- and local-level lobbyists, often trickle through.
“The states are an area that are ripe with influence. In part because it takes lower dollar amounts to influence and people are usually making contributions at a lower level,” Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs at Public Citizen, a watchdog group The Hill.
The Center for Responsive Politics number includes state and local lobbyists, lobbying firm’s political action committees (PACs) as well as people who work at lobbying firms who are not registered – including support staff and lawyers. Lobbyists who are in-house at a corporation are not included in the count.
If a contribution from a federally registered lobbyist was returned by the campaign, it would be subtracted from the calculation, according to the group.
The over $500,000 figure includes both donations to campaigns and money directed to outside groups, like candidates’ political action committees.
According to the center’s data, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse Intelligence Committee to review impeachment investigation report Monday Biden canvassers join Teamsters union California Rep. John Garamendi endorses Biden MORE has received over $90,000 from the lobbying industry, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisCalifornia Rep. John Garamendi endorses Biden Adam Schiff’s star rises with impeachment hearings Kamala Harris aide says in resignation letter: ‘I have never seen an organization treat its staff so poorly’ MORE (D-Calif.) has received over $75,000, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegBiden canvassers join Teamsters union Biden begins 8-day blitz of Iowa as caucus race heats up New Iowa ad compares Booker to the ‘other Rhodes Scholar mayor’ MORE has received over $30,000, and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSunday shows preview: Washington gears up for next round of impeachment hearings South Carolina judge used racially-charged, anti-immigrant language: report New Iowa ad compares Booker to the ‘other Rhodes Scholar mayor’ MORE (D-N.J.) has received over $30,000.
“Vice President Biden does not accept contributions from federal lobbyists and has been a leader throughout his career in working to eliminate the influence of big money in politics,” campaign spokesman Michael Gwin told The Hill.
Also, Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSunday shows preview: Washington gears up for next round of impeachment hearings The Senate jury pool is tainted Five questions looming over impeachment MORE (D-Minn.) has received over $20,000, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren receives endorsement from Illinois congresswoman ahead of Chicago rally Biden canvassers join Teamsters union Michael Bloomberg’s billions can’t save an unserious campaign MORE (D-Mass.) has received over $16,000 and former Housing Secretary Julian CastroJulian CastroButtigieg surges to second place behind Biden as Warren sinks: poll Julian Castro should stay in 2020 Democratic race Note to Democrats: We need compassion and reason regarding child welfare MORE, Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetThe Senate jury pool is tainted Five questions looming over impeachment Buttigieg campaign returns donations from Kavanaugh’s lawyers: report MORE (D-Colo.) and Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin Delaney2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the November forum Poll: Biden holds 20-point lead in South Carolina Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne MORE (D-Md.) have all received over $10,000.
Just over $2,000 has gone to Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden canvassers join Teamsters union Michael Bloomberg’s billions can’t save an unserious campaign Biden begins 8-day blitz of Iowa as caucus race heats up MORE (I-Vt.) and just under $600 to Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardHow to shut down your Trump-supporting family member at Thanksgiving dinner EXCLUSIVE: 2020 Dem Andrew Yang releases tax returns Krystal Ball analyzes why some 2020 Democrats don’t advocate for reforming party’s foreign policy approach MORE (D-Hawaii), while businessman Andrew YangAndrew YangHow to shut down your Trump-supporting family member at Thanksgiving dinner Andrew Yang accused of discriminating against female employee at education company EXCLUSIVE: 2020 Dem Andrew Yang releases tax returns MORE, and Marianne WilliamsonMarianne WilliamsonChicago suburb to use recreational marijuana sales tax to fund reparations program: report The Hill’s 12:30 Report — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Witness dismisses ‘fictional’ GOP claims of Ukraine meddling 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the November forum MORE have all accepted over $250.
The Gabbard campaign told The Hill they will return the contributions.
“Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We’re planning to return the $594 in lobbyist contributions and going forward our policy will be to return any lobbyist contributions over $50. We will rely on the reporting by Open Secrets to help us track this information,” a spokesman told The Hill.
The Buttigieg campaign said it was committed to ensuring campaign finance reforms to crack down on special interest money.
“As President, Pete will enact critical campaign finance reforms to restore faith in our Democracy, including strengthening the FEC and pushing to overturn Citizens United and Buckley v Valeo,” a spokesman told The Hill.
In response, Warren’s campaign cited their plan, introduced in September, that would ban lobbyists from making political contributions, bundling donations or hosting fundraisers for candidates. Currently, her campaign refuses donations from lobbyists to the federal government and also from foreign agents.
Sanders’ campaign noted that they don’t accept donations from corporate lobbyists. The senator introduced a plan in October to would ban donations from federal lobbyists and corporations.
And, Williamson’s campaign said they evaluate contributions on a case by case basis.
Other campaigns declined to comment for the story or did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment.
Unlike most Democrats, Trump, has not shied away from corporate money. Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill WeldWilliam (Bill) WeldWeld: Trump using border wall as a ‘scare tactic’ Trump challenger Bill Weld: ‘If I win the New Hampshire primary, all bets are off’ Michigan GOP attempting to have Trump be only Republican candidate on ballot MORE, the only other Republican presidential contender other than Trump counted in the tally, has accepted over $200.
Still, the donations from those connected to the lobbying industry as a whole pale in comparison to political contributions from other controversial industries.
The oil and gas industry has donated over $4.5 million on the 2020 election, over $4 million of that going to Trump alone and the pharmaceuticals and health products industry has donated $1.7 million with over $450,000 going to Trump, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Democrats who have pledged not to take money from lobbyists in Washington have returned checks in many cases, but that doesn’t often extend to donations from state and local lobbyists or from people who work at lobbying firms.
State and local lobbyists are seen as different because they do not directly lobby the president or Congress. But critics say that state and local lobbyists are still prominent in the advocacy space.
“Certainly as we think about decisions that campaigns are making or campaign finance rules that we want, we are paying equal attention to money spend in the federal and state level,” said Gilbert from Public Citizen.
Gilbert said that as Democratic candidates crack down on special interest money the field of acceptable donors will also narrow.
“Just as we first saw no pharma money or no oil money, and then it became no corporate money. Its logical that the next step might be no state lobbyists,” Gilbert said.
Others noted that optics of accepting campaign contributions from state and local lobbyists are less controversial.
“Candidates understand that contributions from lobbyists are a valid and regulated method of political engagement. This is why we see them taking funds from those at the state and local level, which is sometimes less scrutinized than federal-level campaign contributions,” said Kelly Memphis, manager of government relations and stakeholder engagement for the Public Affairs Council, an association for public affairs professionals.
Memphis also questioned the criticism over accepting lobbying money.
“Candidates often refuse dollars from federal lobbyists and national corporate PACs to keep up appearances in line with the overblown national narrative that these types of contributions are part of a broken system,” Memphis said.
But those views have taken hold in the Democratic field, with many candidates proposing tough reforms to cut off lobbyist donations.
Even new entrants are vowing not to take donations from Washington lobbyists.
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s campaign will not be taking contributions from lobbyists, according to the campaign, and Bloomberg, a billionaire, is self-funding entirely.
Fellow billionaire Tom SteyerThomas (Tom) Fahr SteyerMichael Bloomberg could indeed buy the Democratic primary Buttigieg surges as Warren, Biden slip: poll Bloomberg ties with Harris, Klobuchar in new national poll MORE is also against taking lobbyist money.
“Tom doesn’t take money from lobbyists because he’s proposing real structural reforms to break the corporate stranglehold in Washington, like term limits for Members of Congress and national referendums,” spokesman Benjamin Gerdes told The Hill.
The campaign for Gov. Deval PatrickDeval PatrickKrystal Ball rips report saying Obama would intervene to stop Sanders The Hill’s Morning Report — House set for Phase 3 of impeachment push Saagar Enjeti laments use of identity politics in 2020 Democratic race MORE’s (D-Mass.), other new candidate, did not respond to a request for comment.