The Big Payoff: Sunlight Foundation Exposes Baucus’ Bundlers

by JC

Click on the graphic for a larger version. Print it out, it’ll make a great dart board target!baucus wheel

Thanks to the work of the good folks at the Sunlight Foundation, we’re able to see how bundling works its magic on Congress in general, and Max Baucus specifically.

The Foundation took a look at the donations that lobbyists and their families made to politicians like Baucus–the same politicians that their corporate employers made significant donations to. So all of the recent reports of the magnitude of Baucus’ glad tidings from his corporate donors puppeteer manipulators just foreshadowed the magnitude of the problem.

The chart above shows how the effect of campaign dollar bundling–donations from both the corporation (light blue) and its lobbyists (darker blue)–greatly increases the stranglehold they have on a politician. In Baucus’ case, the lobbyists actually have given more money than their employers! One might say that they are purchasing job security, along with advancing their clients’ legislative goals.

And of course, we all know who the source of these funds is–the U.S. taxpayer, who stands to lose as their dollars continue to flow to these corporations and their manipulators, only to be recycled through this bundling game once again. The ultimate corrupt feedback loop.

The Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Responsive Politics co-released an in-depth study on this phenomenon:

A new collaborative investigation by the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Responsive Politics has found that many of the major players in the health insurance reform debate have hit members of Congress with a one-two punch of campaign contributions from at least 10 of their hired, outside lobbyists on top of donations from their employees or political action committees.

Since January 2007, more than 500 individual lobbyists who fit these criteria donated roughly $2.8 million to 61 members of Congress who also received about $1.9 million from the companies’ PACs or employees. These lobbyists represented 25 major health care and health insurance organizations.

Not only did these contributions go directly to the politician’s coffers, they were directed to places like Max Baucus’ Glacier PAC, which is a nice and handy slush fund that he can use to pay for things like motels, airplane tickets, coffee, drinks, parties, car rentals. You know, all of the nice things that the rest of us have to pay out of our monthly paycheck. Thanks to a new investigative database and report from ProPublica, we can check in on our Senators’ spending habits:

In the past three election cycles, lobbyists and special interests poured $355 million into these funds, making them the second-largest source of political money for sitting members of Congress.

Legally, lawmakers are free to spend the leadership PAC money pretty much as they wish.

Lobbyists and lawmakers can — and do — use it to travel together to play golf at Pebble Beach, ride snowmobiles in Montana’s Big Sky Country and go deep-sea fishing in the Florida Keys. The lobbyists don’t pay the costs directly. They contribute to the leadership PAC, which then pays the lawmaker’s resort and travel bills.

Hmmm… $46,721 from Glacier PAC to Bucks T4 and $36,616 to the Cabin Bar. IT’S PARTY TIME…WHOO HOOO!!! Check out the list of Glacier PAC expenses, if you want to see the dirty laundry. Nothing like an expense slush fund of $261,925 for “Entertainment, events, and travel.” Oh, and did I mention that the Glacier PAC managed to spend $1,198,023 in just 2007-8? Nice…

So how widespread is the practice of bundling? We may never know. The Hill had a nice piece about the practice last month, concluding that little has changed:

“This is going to be the dog that never barked,” said Paul Ryan, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for campaign finance reform.

“It tells me one of two things, which is these fundraisers were not very successful or the public is not getting the lobbyist bundling disclosure it thought it would with this legislation.”

So rest assured that our Congress is doing all it can to raise money to travel and have big parties protect the public interest and do the people’s work on the great issues of the day like health care reform.

  1. problembear

    one way to stop this is for us to refuse to do business with any company that participates in this form of bribery.

    if we quit purchasing their products, services etc. they soon run out of money to bribe our politicians with….

    short of an all out revolution i see no other way to break this stranglehold that corporations have over our government right now.

    as goebbels said….paraphrasing as best as i can of course since bears don’t speak german…. “think of the (main stream media) as a great instrument upon which we can play any tune we want.”

    of course, instead of the nazi party now we have the capitalists and the corporations calling the tune.

    • petetalbot

      It’s a nice thought, p-bear, but unfortunately my wife needs those drugs from Pfizer and my doctor just prescribed something to me from Merck. They kinda got us by the short and curlys.

  2. problembear

    mostly i was talking about boycotting the health insurance weasels pete….mostly.

    might not have been as clear on that as i could have been. we could pay out of our pockets for necessary essentials for a few months or so and starve the leeches out. just a simple bear of little brain thought though……

    just think how much more money would circulate–about 26 % more to stimulate the economy. and as a nice benefit, we could watch aetna’s and cigna’s stock plummet….until they go bankrupt. then we demand single payer.

    we would suffer for 6 months but it is a small price to pay for the piece of mind of our children and grand-children don’t you think. just sayin’

    72% want single payer – over 50% of republicans and 85% of democrats . if we all joined this boycott and told our employers we want to opt out. it would work.

    • problembear

      i mean, what else we got? we’ve tried the politicians. they are bought and paid for. but what happens if the companies that own them go bankrupt?

    • “if we all joined this boycott and told our employers we want to opt out. it would work.”

      I know where you’re going with this PB, but what if it didn’t work out? Our employers would have dropped our benefits, and I’m fairly sure they wouldn’t make it up for it in wages and salaries.

    • klemz

      PB, I’m pretty much what you would call a non-consumer of the health insurance industry, and, I can tell you it doesn’t work as a form of political pressure. You know what they did instead of heed the young opt-outers? they pulled Baucus’ choke chain hard enough to get a strong mandate in a bill w/o a public option. Unfortunately the structure of the system is such that our only recourse is to change the oil in the Democratic machine. I’m not wholly impressed with the Obama administration, but at least it shows you don’t need big name recognition at the outset to beat a serious Republican challenger. If you focus and stick to the important issues, eventually every GOP candidate makes a Sarah Palin.

      (read: don’t vote for carpetbagger McDonald just because you think he’s the only one who can beat Rehberg)

  3. ladybug

    Excellent post. The votes are there, ballot access and amnesia are unsolved problems.

  4. “* Scott Olsen, a one-time Baucus policy adviser, has been a lobbyist for Amgen since 2004.”

    Moar here…


  5. problembear

    i have a better idea rusty….

    time for some side-by-side politics…

  1. 1 CBO: Baucus Faux Universal Health Care Bill to Leave 25 Million Uninsured « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] business. This is another piece of their ongoing collaboration with OpenSecrets about the role of bundling lobbyist dollars in buying our politicians […]

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