2020 Democrats sticking to their no lobbyist money pledge

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(By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

One of the biggest focuses of the Democratic presidential primary so far has been on the candidates and how their campaigns raise money. A subject of contention is candidates accepting money from lobbyists, a move that can draw quick ire from the leftward moving party base. Despite that, lobbyists are still contributing.

The distaste toward lobbyists from some of the candidates and parts of the base seems to have originated with Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 when he rejected federal lobbyist contributions. Since then, the position has gotten more popular, with many of the 2020 Democrats also saying “no thanks.”  

During the first quarter of the 2020 cycle, registered lobbyists contributed $40,100 to presidential campaigns, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). This number only refers to itemized contributions, those over $200, which are the only type publicly accessible from the FEC. While not a large amount, candidates still stuck to their pledges and refunded nearly all of it.

Outcry from parts of the Democratic base motivated the Pete Buttigieg campaign to refund all contributions from lobbyists, federal and otherwise, in the first quarter of 2019 and swear off all future such contributions.

Of the candidates who say they reject federal lobbyist donations, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) initially got the most, $3,800, before refunding it all. Stanley Fendley, the director of government affairs for Corning Glass, a major New York-based company, contributed $2,800. Robert Crowe, a lobbyist for plaintiffs in 9/11 litigation among other topics, contributed $1,000 to Gillibrand.

A Gillibrand aide told CRP that both Fendley’s and Crowe’s contributions were refunded and that the campaign did not directly solicit them in the first place.       

According to Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) website, Booker “won’t take a dime” from federal lobbyists and he stuck to that, refunding lobbyists who tried to donate. The campaign initially received $1,500 from federal lobbyists. Kristen Ludecke, vice president of federal affairs for the Newark-founded Public Service Enterprise Group conglomerate of energy companies, contributed $1,000. Another David Jones, a lobbyist, gave $500.

Sabrina Singh, national press secretary for Booker, said the contribution from Ludecke was refunded. Singh said the campaign is “immediately refunding the contribution” from Jones.

“We missed [Jones’] contribution in our vetting process, which we believed had caught every instance of a lobbyist contribution,” she explained, noting the campaign’s commitment to refusing such contributions.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has been vocal in disavowing lobbyist money, even refunding the contributions of two foreign agents. Despite that, lobbyists still contributed $3,000, money that was refunded. Crowe, who also contributed to Gillibrand, gave $1,000 to Harris. Jonathan Slade, a lobbyist at Cormac Group, contributed $1,000 as well.

Ian Sams, national press secretary for the Harris’ campaign, said that the contributions from Crowe and Slade were “refunded a while back” and that the campaign continues to reject contributions from federal lobbyists.

Also refunding some federal lobbyist money was Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) whose campaign originally received two $250 contributions from Timothy Hannegan of HLP&R Advocacy and Marshall Matz of Olsson, Frank & Weeda.

The donations didn’t stick around long. Klobuchar’s campaign reported that the contributions from Hannegan and Matz were returned.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) also swore off federal lobbyist contributions. He received one $250 contribution from Amy Thomas of the American Public Power Association which was refunded, according to Chris Evans, communications director for the O’Rourke campaign.

A few campaigns didn’t need to make any refunds, because they didn’t receive any contributions in the first place.

Neither Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) received contributions from federally registered lobbyists thus far in the 2020 cycle. The campaigns of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson also showed no such contributions.

It’s too early to tell whether or not some candidates will raise any lobbyist money. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), along with former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) all have yet to release a 2020 FEC report, as they all declared after the March 30th deadline. Biden has said he won’t accept lobbyist money, as has Gravel. The others haven’t publicly said something one way or another.

The lobbyist data used here only refers to federally registered lobbyists and not to so-called “shadow lobbyists” who engage in lobbying activities but are not registered. Several candidates did accept some contributions from those who, while not registered lobbyists, engage in activities that could be considered lobbying due to exploitable gaps in the Lobbying Disclosure Act.

Not all candidates took the pledge

Leading the Democratic field with lobbying dollars received are two candidates who actually welcome the funding — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Inslee raised $13,900 from nine federal lobbyists so far this cycle, still a relatively insignificant amount. Many of those contributions came from former staff members of Inslee when he was in the House of Representatives.

His biggest lobbyist contributor is his former legislative director, Nick Shipley, who as a lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America contributed $5,600 in the first cycle. Brian Peters, a former legislative assistant for Inslee in the mid-2000s, contributed $2,000. Peters represents a variety of tech firms such as Alphabet Inc, parent of Google, eBay and Postmates. Jared Weaver, one-time legislative assistant and counsel for Inslee, is the vice president of the Alpine Group lobbying firm and gave $500 to Inslee’s presidential bid.

Hickenlooper received the second-highest amount from lobbyists in the first quarter — $7,850. Much of his lobbyist support came from the powerful Denver-based Brownstein, Hyatt firm. Norman Brownstein, its co-founder, and his wife each contributed $2,800 to Hickenlooper’s campaign. Another lobbyist at the firm, Gregory Berger, gave $1,000.

Gordon Taylor, president of Ogilvy Government Relations, maxed out for the primary to Hickenlooper with a $2,800 contribution. Taylor lobbies for a variety of large corporations including Marathon Petroleum, Nike and Wells Fargo.   

Former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), also hasn’t sworn off federal lobbyist cash. He took in a combined $1,000 from two lobbyists in the first quarter — Alfred Mottur of Brownstein, Hyatt and Theodore Schroeder of Alston & Bird.  

Julian Castro, while not taking the no lobbyist pledge, hasn’t received any contributions this cycle from lobbyists.

The article originally misidentified the wrong David W. Jones. It has been corrected. 

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