WASHINGTON - February 13 - The Bush-Cheney campaigns elite fundraisers who have raked in more than $142 million and counting since June include at least 53 federal registered lobbyists, according to an analysis by Public Citizen. While the Bush campaign has strongly criticized Democratic challenger John Kerry for being beholden to "special interests," the president accepted more in direct contributions from lobbyists in one year than Kerry did in the past 15 years. In addition, he collected at least $6.5 million "bundled" by Washington influence-peddlers last year.
On Thursday, the Bush-Cheney campaign sent a video message to more than 6 million people, decrying U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as an "unprincipled" politician "brought to you by the special interests." The video (available on the campaigns Web site here) cites a recent Washington Post story reporting that Kerry had raised more campaign money in individual "hard money" donations from lobbyists since 1989 about $640,000 than any other senator (although this does not account for the fact that Kerry does not accept PAC money, which, if counted, would rank him near the bottom among all senators in total special interest contributions). According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Bush received more than $960,000 in individual contributions from lobbyists last year.
Kerrys total is just a fraction of the money brought in to the Bush re-election campaign by lobbyists. Twelve registered federal lobbyists have been named Bush Rangers, the title awarded to those fundraisers who bundle at least $200,000 in individual contributions. Another 41 lobbyists have become Pioneers by raising at least $100,000. Although the campaign refuses to release exact fundraising totals for its big-money bundlers, lobbyists last year collected at least $6.5 million in bundled donations for Bush or 10 times what Kerry raised in direct contributions from lobbyists over 15 years.
"Bushs video represents the height of hypocrisy," said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. "In modern times, no president or presidential candidate has come close to being as indebted to special interests as the current occupant of the White House."
Added Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizens Congress Watch, "We congratulate President Bush on his newfound concern about the undue influence of special interests in Washington. We hope Bush will join Senator Kerry in pledging to ban federal officials from lobbying for five years after they leave office. And we urge the president to endorse his challengers proposal to require all meetings between lobbyists and federal officials to be made public."
However, both these proposals may cause some complications for Bushs big-money bundlers. For example, two of the presidents former top assistants in the White House office of Homeland Security Pioneers Carl M. Bucholz and Mark A. Holman now work for Ranger David Girard-DiCarlo at the lobbying firm Blank Rome. Cashing in on their connections, Blank Romes clients include numerous companies competing for contracts at the new Department of Homeland Security.
The "revolving door" between Capitol Hill and K Street also has been very generous to the Bush campaign. The legislators-cum-lobbyists who each have bundled at least $100,000 for the Bush campaign include former U.S. Sen. Alfonse DAmato (R-N.Y.) and ex-U.S. Reps. Tillie Fowler (R-Fla.), Kent Hance (R-Texas), Van Hilleary (R-Tenn.), Tom Loeffler (R-Texas) and Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.).
Releasing details of meetings between lobbyists and federal officials would represent an even more remarkable turnaround for the Bush administration. After all, the administration repeatedly has refused to release even the names of non-governmental officials who met with Dick Cheneys energy task force, taking the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The few documents previously made public by court order suggest that lobbyists enjoyed red carpet access to the task force.
Two-time Pioneer Tom Kuhn, head of the Edison Electric Institute, met at least 14 times with the task force, which recommended gutting key clean air laws opposed by the utility companies that comprise his groups membership. High-powered lobbyist Haley Barbour, a Pioneer in 2000 who represented electric utilities Southern Co. and First Energy, met at least four times with task force officials. Now that Barbour is governor of Mississippi, his partner Lanny Griffith has collected at least $100,000 to fill their firms slot on the Pioneer list. Another lobbyist Pioneer, National Mining Association chief Jack Gerard, helped shape the administrations industry-friendly energy policy along with Kuhn as a member of Bushs Department of Energy transition team.
This information is at WhiteHouseForSale.org, a site Public Citizen created to track major contributors to the 2004 presidential campaigns. The Web site features a searchable database with 165 Rangers and 251 Pioneers identified by the Bush campaign so far, as well as the 119 major donors named so far by the Kerry campaign. For a list of the 53 lobbyists and some of their notable clients go to www.WhiteHouseForSale.org.
"The Bush administrations record of paying back its campaign contributors is unparalleled," Claybrook said. "Bushs bundlers made out like bandits from the Medicare bill, the pending energy legislation and the tax cuts targeted toward the wealthiest Americans. Before he starts mudslinging, the president should come clean about his own record."