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Publication date: Mar. 2, 2005

MONEY TALKS AS LEGISLATORS GRAPPLE WITH ENVIRO ISSUES

The impact of money on government policy has never been a timelier story.

When election headlines fade, the connections between campaign funding and resulting legislative action are often missed. As newly elected and returning legislators get down to work, it is a good time for journalists to dig into those connections.

Federal, state, and local lawmakers are grinding away at a variety of environmental issues - energy, air pollution, endangered species, roadless areas, agricultural subsidies, mad cow disease, and more. Their constant companions will be the lobbyists and advocacy groups of many stripes who helped fund their campaigns.

The players and their viewpoints may be well-known. But when you need to scratch below the surface of a new or established group, lobbyist, or legislator, heed the old adage - "Follow the money." Party leaders and organizations have also become a major funding force and - not coincidentally - more successful at enforcing party loyalty and partisan ideology. Environmental advocates largely carry the Democrat label these days, while those with non-environmental priorities tend to be Republicans, according to the League of Conservation Voters. Regional differences also strongly affect environmental perspectives (Mark Sokolove, 202-785-8683). Nonetheless, there are exceptions both ways. REP America offers one example. Combining information on party, location, and campaign contributions often provides a quick shorthand to an organization's or politician's slant, and can help shape your investigation.

There are many resources for tracking who gives and gets campaign contributions that may affect subsequent government actions. Few are adequate on their own, but by combining some of them you can often assemble a useful picture. Starting points include:

FEDERAL LEVEL

  • Americans for Tax Reform: "K St. Project," named after the Washington, DC, street where many lobbying firms locate, and established by a GOP anti-tax group to track lobbyists' political affiliations - and enforce party loyalty as a requirement for preferential lobbying access (includes breakouts on campaign contributions of selected employees, partners, lobbyists and/or political action committees associated with dozens of DC lobbying firms, trade associations, and corporations).
  • Center for Public Integrity: includes some specific emphasis on environmental topics, such as the oil industry.
  • Center for Responsive Politics: Steven Weiss, 202-857-0044 x111; Lobbyists Database (includes overviews on campaign spending for many industries and issues; lobbyist data is a little dated, but may get updated in the future if funding becomes available; campaign contribution information is more current).
  • Political Money Line: Full information often requires a subscription, but some useful basic information is available at no cost.
  • Federal Election Commission: This independent federal agency is the main collector of data on political funding and activity, and it serves as data wholesaler to groups like those above. They offer online searchable databases and downloadable data files.
  • US Senate: Office of Public Records, Lobby Filing Disclosure Program, includes both searchable online database and images of paper filings. The US House of Representatives only makes available paper copies onsite.
STATE LEVELOTHER RESOURCES
  • Center for Consumer Freedom: reviews environmental and other "anti-consumer" groups.
  • Center for Science in the Public Interest: tracks industry funding of scientists, universities, and associations.
  • Hoover Institution: range of information and links.
  • Investigative Reporters and Editors: publishers of the 2003 book, Unstacking the Deck: A Reporter's Guide to Campaign Finance. Also see IRE's Campaign Finance Information Center (many links require membership).
  • Lobbysearch.com: free source of commercial information on selected lobbyists and their firms, with most data emphasizing firms and individuals based in federal and state capitals.
  • PR Watch: one perspective on the public relations industry.
  • Section 527 organizations: IRS; Center for Public Integrity.
  • Media Transparency: This liberal-leaning site documents "the money behind the media" - and the degree to which politics and money may have corrupted not just government legislation and policy, but the media themselves. Site includes searchable database of over 21,000 grants (often to media figures and outlets) from conservative philanthropies since 1985, totaling more than $1.25 billion.
In some situations, such as federal, state, and local revolving doors between government, lobbyists, and advocacy groups, an individual may have no track record in his or her new position. One recent example is the move of Steven Griles, deputy secretary at the US Dept. of Interior since 2001, to the firm of Lundquist Nethercutt Griles. Old-fashioned sleuthing into the person's previous work, and the history of the new firm and its leaders, likely will shed light on how that person will perform in the new role.


Last revised January 22, 2013

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