Almost 80 members of Congress used corporate lobbyists
to head their fund-raising committees
Oldaker is just one of hundreds of Washington, D.C., lobbyists who play this dual role, influencing members of Congress while also controlling donations that finance their campaigns.
"That is truly a lot of money," said Frances Hill, the tax program director at the Campaign Legal Center and a professor of election law at the University of Miami law school. "I think it is all right for people to band together and hire a lobbyist in an expensive suit to represent their interests, but I don't think it is OK to use [campaign] money as the clincher," she said.
Although there are no restrictions on who can be a committee treasurer, Hill said she was "seriously concerned" that so many lobbyists are filling the position. According to federal election law, the treasurer is responsible for all of a committee's expenditures and is also responsible for monitoring contributions.
Meanwhile as these lobbyist-led PACs donate millions, their firms have raked in $3 billion from 10,610 companies and organizations between 1998 and 2004—constituting one quarter of all federal lobbying expenditures for that period. In addition, 557 companies that spent more than $3.5 billion lobbying employed PAC or campaign treasurers as in-house lobbyists.
Most PACs with lobbyist treasurers were actually formed by their clients. New York Stock Exchange lobbyist Cecile Srodes, for example, was the treasurer of two NYSE PACs in 2004. Under her management that year, the committees donated $11,000 to Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, while Srodes simultaneously lobbied on the "Broker Accountability through Enhanced Transparency Act," which Oxley co-sponsored.
Lobbying expert Bertram Levine said that appointing a lobbyist as the treasurer of a corporate PAC is a "very poor practice." He said that because corporate PACs raise money from the company's employees, they should be the ones designating where the money goes, not lobbyists.
"It buys access," said Levine, a professor of political science at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., and co-author of a book about lobbying. "And that is not something that should be taken lightly; the opportunity to make the argument is the opportunity to win the argument."
Although Levine said that allowing lobbyists to run corporate PACs raises "red flags," he characterized the practice of having them run campaign committees and leadership PACs as the "most obvious conflict of interest." Campaign committees raise money for a candidate's election; leadership PACs are committees formed by politicians to fund other candidates' campaigns.
Since 1998, 79 members of Congress have appointed lobbyists as the treasurers of their campaign committees or leadership PACs. There are 39 sitting members of Congress who currently have lobbyists at the helm of such committees. Lobbyists have also been treasurers for major presidential contenders, including Al Gore's 2000 campaign.
For instance, Harold Ickes, a partner at Ickes & Enright Group, is the treasurer of New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign committee "Hillary Rodham Clinton For U.S. Senate Committee Inc." Ickes clients have included the insurance company Equitas Ltd. and Verizon Services Group. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D- Ill., co-sponsor of the recently introduced lobbying reform act, the "Emanuel-Meehan bill" also appointed a lobbyist to oversee his campaign committee, "Friends of Rahm Emanuel." Emmanuel's committee raised more than $4 million under the watch of lobbyist William Singer, whose clients include Sara Lee Corp. and United Airlines.
But these lobbyist-led campaign committees are not limited to the Democratic side of the aisle. Lobbyist Timothy McKeever is the treasurer of Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens' campaign committee, "Stevens for Senate." McKeever said that he has worked on the committee since 1980, before he became a lobbyist.
During McKeever's last two election cycles as treasurer, the committee raised nearly $3 million to influence the political process. He insists, however, that his work as a fund-raiser has no impact on his role as a lobbyist.
"I really don't think there is a connection between the two (positions)," McKeever said. "I do relatively little lobbying work for the senator."
McKeever did not comment on the specifics of his lobbying, but said that his committee position does not give him any special advantages in attracting clients. "I don't believe they hire me because of it," McKeever said. "Whether (an advantage) is something they perceive, I don't know."
Among the lobbyists overseeing leadership PACs is the Republican political consultant Mark Valente. He serves as the treasurer of 15 PACs, nearly all of which are leadership PACs, including those of House Republicans Joe Wilson, S.C.; Mike Ferguson, N.J.; and Mike Rogers, Mich. [and Candice Miller (CANDICE PAC), Mich.]
Valente, who heads his own lobbying firm Valente & Associates, said he does not believe any conflicts of interest result from heading the leadership PACs of several members of Congress while lobbying. Although at times the job requires fund-raising, Valente said that the majority of his tasks as treasurer involve filling out forms and keeping banking records.
"The members are looking for people they can trust, and we want to help our friends out," Valente said. "And they are already our friends."
Only a few of his clients donate to the PACs he oversees, Valente said, and not many of them have PACs that could make contributions. "Just as we encourage our clients to donate to like-minded members of Congress, we would not exclude the PACs," he said.
By the book
While lobbyists like William Oldaker and Mark Valente are connected to many PACs, neither of them hold the record for the most committees controlled by a registered lobbyist. That distinction belongs to political savant Barbara W. Bonfiglio.
During her tenure as a lobbyist from 1998 to 2001, Bonfiglio mastered the demanding jobs of both overseeing the finances of 31 political committees—more than half of which were campaign committees and leadership PACs—while lobbying for six companies at the D.C. law firm Williams & Jensen. In addition to running FEC-regulated committees, Bonfiglio was also the treasurer of five 527 organizations once connected to members of Congress, which were allowed to raise money without contribution limits.