In 2009 and 2010, lobbyists gave tens of millions of dollars to nonprofit groups either affiliated with or that honored individual lawmakers, a new report from the Sunlight Foundation finds.
According to Sunlight's investigation, lobbyists spent a total of $50.2 million in honorary and meeting fees, including $36.3 million honoring members of Congress and $11 million honoring executive branch officials. Chevron topped the list of contributors with nearly $2.9 million, followed by Walmart ($2.2 million) and J.P. Morgan Chase ($1.72 million). Other top contributors included the University of Michigan ($1.27 million), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees ($947,808), and AARP ($742,234).
While lobbying groups are required to report charitable donations, honoraria, and meeting fees twice a year, minimal guidance and weak enforcement allow many gifts to go unreported. To help remedy the situation, Sunlight has created an interactive graphic of the data it collected from lobbying disclosure forms held by the Senate clerk.
"In Washington, there is deeper, lesser known influence-peddling going on outside the halls of Congress and sidewalks of K Street, one that takes place in hotel banquet rooms, at mountainside conference centers and on celebrity golf courses," said Ellen Miller, the organization's co-founder and executive director. "We need better disclosure requirements on gifts to lawmakers' charities, as well as their giving to those groups that are not officially associated with a public official but benefit the person nonetheless."