Romney and Obama super-PAC backers also spent big dollars on lobbying

Donors who have funded the super-PACs supporting Mitt Romney and President Obama spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2011 on lobbying activity to influence federal action.

The lobbying activity shows that for some of the biggest donors of this election cycle business interests could be as much at stake as ideological preference.

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The overlap between huge campaign donations and lobbying interests could prompt lawmakers and courts to reassess whether super-PACs have a corrupting influence on government — or create that appearance.

Paul Singer, the founder of Elliott Management Corporation, gave $1 million to Restore Our Future, a super-PAC backing Romney in October of last year.

In 2011, Elliott Management Corp. also spent $350,000 lobbying Congress on the State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act, according to lobbying records filed with the Senate.

John Rogers, CEO of Ariel Capital, gave $50,000 to Priorities USA, a super-PAC allied with Obama. Ariel Capital spent $80,000 last year lobbying Congress, the Department of Labor and the Office of Personnel Management on regulatory and legislative reform related to retirement security.

The Service Employees International Union, which has its own lobbyists and paid $15,000 in the first half of 2011 to M & R Strategic Services to lobby on behalf of food service workers, gave $1 million to the pro-Obama PAC.

The emergence of super-PACs, which are expected to play as larger or a larger role than regular campaign committees in this election, could alter future strategies for persuading policymakers.

The donations to super-PACs are reported on a quarterly or monthly basis and tracked by the Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan organization devoted to greater government transparency.

Given the influence these groups will have on the election or defeat of federal candidates, they could bolster the arguments that lobbyists make in congressional and executive branch offices.

“It’s really important to connect the dots. While it is generally fair to describe most of these super-PAC donors as ideologically driven, the other reality is that as businessmen they have lots of interests before the federal government as the lobbying expenditures reveal,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that tracks developments in campaign finance law.

The donors whose companies spent the most on lobbying activity last year have given to Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney PAC.

Robert Mercer, the co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies Corp., gave $1 million to Restore Our Future. His firm spent $740,000 in 2011 lobbying Congress on tax issues affecting hedge fund. It hired Capitol Legislative Strategies and DLA Piper.

One policy change Congress is considering would raise the tax rate on the profits hedge funds earn from managing clients money. It is now taxed at the 15-percent capital gains rate but some lawmakers want to tax it at the same rate as regular income.

J.W. Marriot Jr., the chairman and CEO of Marriott International, Inc., gave $750,000 to Restore Our Future. His company spent $820,000 on lobbying activity. It pressed lawmakers on tax policy for hotel bookings made over the Internet.

Donors to super-PACs backing Romney’s rivals, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, also lobbied Congress but spend much less.

Sheldon Adelson, the CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, has spent millions of dollars to keep Gingrich in the GOP presidential primary. His company hired Husch Blackwell LLP and Patton Boggs LLP for $90,000 to lobby on gaming issues last year.

William Duhamel, a managing member of Farallon Capital Management gave $10,000 to a super-PAC supporting Santorum. Farallon spent $60,000 on lobbying fees in the second half of 2011 lobbying the transportation department.

Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen, a good-government advocacy group, said companies have long powered their lobbying strategy with campaign contributions. He said the difference this election cycle is that companies can influence elections more directly because of the landmark 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

In past elections, wealthy donors such as George Soros could give millions of dollars to third-party groups to influence elections but there was greater restriction on advocating for a specific candidate by those groups.

Outside groups generally supported candidates by campaigning on issues. In this election cycle, super-PACs have put less focus on the issues and more on getting favored candidates elected.

They have allowed registered lobbyists to help Obama despite the prohibition he placed on them giving to his reelection fund.

Two prominent lobbyists, Steve Elmendorf, president of Elmendorf Ryan, and David Castagnetti, a partner at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, gave $5,000 each to Priorities USA, the pro-Obama PAC.

“Citizens United has elevated lobbying entities to kingmaker status,” said Holman, who said super-PACs have become secondary candidate campaign committees.

“What a beautiful way for very wealthy special interests to throw money at the feet of lawmakers and expect special favors in return,” he said. “They’re not giving to improve democracy. They want something in return and the White House is the big trophy.”