Big Government takes a big swing and a miss at Norton

››› ››› ADAM SHAH & ERIC SCHROECK

Andrew Breitbart's Big Government is pushing what it calls "Shock Audio" of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) soliciting a campaign donation from a lobbyist. In fact, there is nothing unusual about soliciting a donation from a lobbyist.

Big Gov. "Shock Audio": Member of Congress solicited campaign contribution

Big Government touts "Shock Audio" of DC delegate's "voicemail for lobbyist cash." In a September 15 post at Big Government headlined "Shock Audio: Facing 'Obligations' From Leadership, Democrat Congresswoman Leaves Voicemail for Lobbyist Cash," blogger Capitol Confidential wrote, "A couple weeks ago, House Member Eleanor Holmes Norton made a fundraising call to a lobbyist. The lobbyist wasn't available, so Holmes Norton left a voicemail." The post further claimed, "Holmes Norton seeks a campaign contribution from the lobbyist and even mentions that she hadn't previously asked for a donation." Embedded in the post was an audio recording and transcript of the call.

Politicians routinely solicit donations from lobbyists

Lawmakers frequently make direct solicitations for funds from lobbyists. Norton's call is nothing out of the ordinary. There are many stories in the media of members of Congress asking for campaign donations from lobbyists.

  • The New York Times reported on September 11 that in June, House Minority Leader John Boehner "moved to accelerate his fund-raising effort, starting what he called the Boehner for Speaker campaign" and turned to lobbyists for donations:

In June, with the prospects for a Republican takeover of the House rising, Mr. Boehner moved to accelerate his fund-raising effort, starting what he called the Boehner for Speaker campaign. The idea was to use his high profile to draw large donations that would be mostly allocated to help elect other House Republicans.

He turned again to the same group of lobbyists, former aides and friends during a July meeting at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee.

"The wave is there, there is a rebellion in the country, and we have good candidates," Mr. Boehner told his supporters, one of the lobbyists present at the meeting recalled. "But I don't want to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because we have not raised enough money. They might be able to stop us with a wall of money."

[Nicholas E. Calio, Citigroup lobbyist] was among the first to write a large check. So far, a party spokesman said, the campaign has raised nearly $2 million. Mr. Boehner has helped raise millions more in the last six weeks for Republican House candidates across the country and the party, appearing at more than 40 fund-raisers.

The Boehner for Speaker campaign offers donors who give the maximum amount special perks, like "meetings with Leader Boehner and much much more."

But his lobbyist friends and former aides said these incentives did not mean too much, because they already had plenty of access to Mr. Boehner. They just now want to see him as the speaker of the House.

  • A February 2006 Businessweek article detailed how lobbyists are repeatedly solicited by lawmakers for donations:

One Washington lobbyist who asked not to be identified says he gave money to the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for a House seat. After the election, the Republican winner called to demand a check -- bigger than the original gift. Why? "The late train is a hell of a lot more expensive than the early train," the lobbyist says he was told.

Lawmaker solicitations are legion and often quite creative. Take the case of House Financial Services Chairman Michael G. Oxley (R-Ohio) and his book club. Each month a junior member of Oxley's committee picks a book and distributes copies to financial lobbyists to read and discuss. The price of admission is a contribution to the featured member. The lobbyists get face time with Oxley, who largely controls the Washington agenda for their industries.

  • An April 6, 2006, Roll Call article (from Nexis) quoted a lobbyist saying describing how "[m]embers will call me needing money for their re-election, their PACs, and separately for the NRCC":

"I think he was not only good at using K Street, but he also taught a lot of the Members and the party how to raise money," said a Republican lobbyist who requested anonymity. "You saw a huge explosion in leadership PACs and more support for the [National Republican Congressional Committee] because of [Tom] DeLay. I see, to this day, the difference in how much money the NRCC can raise versus how the Dems do. Members will call me needing money for their re-election, their PACs, and separately for the NRCC. Democrats will only call for their re-elect. I feel a lot of that's [because of] DeLay. There was a sense of fear among the membership that if they didn't raise the money, they would be on DeLay's bad side, and if they wanted to be a subcommittee chairman, or even committee assignments," they would have to play ball.

[...]

Taylor said there were times when a Member, vacillating over, say, a tax-cut measure would find DeLay and his team reaching out to business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to apply some added pressure and encouragement to support the cut.

  • According to a January 15, 2006, Dallas Morning News article (from Nexis), Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the ranking Republican on the House energy committee, had "no qualms about spending next weekend with lobbyists and other high-dollar backers. He's got a special time planned for anyone willing to spend $2,000 for a seven-hour private train ride Friday from Fort Worth to San Antonio." The Texas Observer reported in March 2006 that "[c]hecks from energy companies, including Duke Energy Corp., American Electric Power, and the El Paso Corp., appeared on the campaign finance report within days of the fundraiser -- not surprising since Barton's committee oversees energy policy."

Big Government baselessly suggests Norton may have used FEC reports to solicit donations

From the Big Government post:

At the very beginning of the message, Holmes Norton notes that the lobbyist:

ha[s] given to other colleagues of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Beyond being a bit heavy-handed, where did she get this information? Such donations are listed in FEC reports, but it is a violation to use that information to solicit campaign donations.

There's no evidence that Norton got the information on donations from FEC reports. The Big Government post provides no evidence whatsoever that Norton used FEC reports to learn how much had been given to her colleagues rather than, say, asking her colleagues for the information directly.

Big Government baselessly suggests Norton may have illegally made her call on federal property

From the Big Government post:

We don't know from where she made this call, but it is a relevant inquiry. It is, after all, illegal to solicit campaign funds on federal property.

Big Government cites no evidence that Norton was on federal property when she made her call. There's no reason to believe that Norton would have used federal property -- such as her congressional office -- to make the call when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is located only a few blocks from the Capitol and House offices.

ABC: "Norton's office tells ABC News that the call was made from campaign headquarters, not from a federal building." On September 16, ABC News' Hanna Siegel and John Parkinson reported:

Norton's office told ABC News that the call was made from campaign headquarters, not from a federal building and that "[Andrew Breitbart] is circulating a voicemail of a standard request made by candidates to potential donors who do not know the candidates or their work. Norton, therefore, identified herself as a subcommittee chair and the kind of work she has done in subcommittee. Norton is a longtime supporter of public financing of campaigns, but barring that, candidates from all parties regularly raise funds in calls by first identifying who they are and what they have done... Her request fully complied with legal and ethical requirements."

Despite Big Government's suggestion, there's nothing unusual about pressure from congressional leaders to meet fundraising goals

Big Government suggests there's something unusual about congressional leaders putting pressure on their rank-and-file members to fundraise. Big Government's post stated that "Speaker Pelosi and her leadership team are putting a lot of pressure on Democrat members to pony up campaign contributions to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee." From Big Government:

The pressure is especially strong on members from "safe" districts, who need little campaign money of their own to win reelection. The catch, though, is that many of these members haven't amassed vast campaign war-chests, for the simple reason that they haven't needed them. So, they are scrambling to meet their Pelosi-imposed obligations. Holmes Norton is from one such "safe" district -- the District of Columbia.

In June 2010, GOP congressional committee set goal for members to raise $20 million over three months. According to a June 16 Roll Call article (from Nexis), "The National Republican Congressional Committee is kicking off its biennial 'Battleground' fundraising effort today with a goal of getting party leaders and rank-and-file Members to pony up a total of $20 million over the next three months to fund the effort to regain seats in November." Roll Call reported that this goal was "well ahead of the $12 million mark the committee set for the program in 2008." Roll Call later added:

This year's Battleground program is getting under way earlier than it has before, and unlike previous cycles, the NRCC is asking Members to fulfill their assessments well before Election Day.

One committee operative said getting money in the door sooner and setting a Sept. 15 deadline for Members will give the NRCC "more maneuverability for how we are going to effectively attack the playing field in the fall."

GOP congressional committee leader in April 2010: Those who don't raise enough for GOP effort "will be duly noted." From an April 21 Roll Call article (from Nexis):

House Republicans are so determined to have Members fulfill their fundraising quotas this year that they have enlisted two of their own to act as the NRCC's repo team.

With the blessing of National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas), Reps. Kevin Brady (Texas) and Tom Cole (Okla.) have assembled a 14-member whip team whose only mission is to collect dues from Members who have failed to meet their fundraising goals.

"It's a brutal exercise in peer pressure," said Cole, a former NRCC chairman. "This is a critical point for us."

[...]

While little can be done to punish Members who do not give to the committee, Sessions told Roll Call that the slight would not soon be forgotten.

"We want everybody to be all in," Sessions said. "And those that are not will be duly noted."

Last year, Boehner and other leaders repeatedly asked Members during closed-door meetings to pony up outstanding financial commitments. At one meeting, Members with unpaid balances were handed envelopes and encouraged to fill them with the money still owed to the committee.

Roll Call in 2006: NRCC chairmen "put pressure on Members" of Congress to raise money. An April 6, 2006, Roll Call article (from Nexis) quoted Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-AL) discussing the pressure the NRCC put on members of Congress to raise funds:

Unless Members can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, Callahan said, they won't be considered for coveted committee spots. "When they first started it, I thought it was a mistake and I thought the Democrats would come out and eat our lunch, but they did the same thing," he said.

Callahan said that while the money race escalated sharply during DeLay's tenure, he does not blame DeLay. NRCC chairmen, he said, put the pressure on Members.

"The talk about all the corruption and all the problems that are coming stems from the fact that a Member of Congress now has to prostitute himself in order to be effective, and that's absolutely wrong," Callahan said. "Fundraising is absolutely out of control in Washington. They expect you to raise $100,000, $200,000 ... to be an effective team player. Where do they expect you to go? This is not just a Republican problem. It's on both sides of the aisle."

Posted In
Elections, Government, Ethics, The House of Representatives
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Big Government
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