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Campaign Contributions Nearly Double Old Record

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, February 26, 2008

This year's presidential contest has been groundbreaking in many ways, but none more than in the race for campaign cash.

So far in this primary election season -- in 2007 and in January 2008 -- the presidential candidates have raised a combined $542 million from individuals, according to the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. That's nearly double the previous record of $285.7 million raised during the primaries in the same 13-month period in 2003 and 2004.

Remarkably, the proportion of large vs. small donations has remained pretty close despite the huge overall increase. Contributions of $1,000 or more have accounted for 58 percent of individual giving in the latest 13-month period, the institute said. That compares with 64 percent during that same period of the previous presidential contest.

Small donations of $200 or less, fueled largely by the Internet, accounted for 28 percent of individual contributions during the most recent 13 months. In the same period four years ago, small contributions accounted for 23 percent, a change of just five percentage points.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has raised about half her primary money so far from donors who gave $2,300, the largest amount allowed. Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), in contrast, have raised only about a third of their funds from "maxed out" donors.

Obama has received 36 percent of his donations from contributors of $200 or less, while Clinton has raised 17 percent from them. McCain has collected a quarter of his contributions from these small donors.

The largest amount of money from any single sector came from employees of the finance, insurance and real estate industries, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Lawyers and lobbyists, and the employees of communications, electronics and health firms, also have been major contributors.

Lobbyists even have been giving to Obama, at least according to the center, despite his refusal to accept money from them. That's possible because Obama and the center differ over what a lobbyist is.

Obama takes no money from federally registered lobbyists. The center says a lobbyist is anyone who works at a gun-for-hire lobbying firm, as well as their closest relatives. This distinction could become troublesome for Obama if he wins the Democratic nomination.

Dueling Lobbyists

This week, the National Association of Broadcasters is holding its annual State Leadership Conference in Washington. Some 600 broadcasters will descend on the District to be updated by NAB staffers on the association's many issues and hear from a parade of lawmakers.

Then the broadcasters will head to Capitol Hill to plead their case to their own elected representatives. This type of "Lobby Day" is fairly standard practice these days for industries with interests before Congress.

One piece of legislation the NAB opposes would require, for the first time, that AM and FM stations pay royalties to musical artists and their labels for the recordings they play. Currently, only composers and music publishers receive such a fee.

The NAB has branded the extra royalty a "performance tax" and will ask its members to go to the Hill to argue against its imposition. But a coalition of groups called MusicFirst -- which includes the NAB's crosstown rival, the Recording Industry Association of America -- will not let that viewpoint go unchallenged.

MusicFirst plans to release a petition today, signed by more than 6,000 singers and musicians from 15 countries, urging the establishment of the added royalty. It also will buy advertisements in a Capitol Hill newspaper advocating the same position.

Think of the competition this week as the first Lobby Day food fight of 2008.

Lobbying Deluxe

Lobbying is not just about grabbing lawmakers on Capitol Hill and selling them on clients' wishes.

It's often about beating down the doors of federal agencies as well. Take the example of J. Richard Capka, the new chief operating officer of Dawson & Associates.

Capka has never worked in Congress. But for the past 2 1/2 years he served as the administrator of the Federal Highway Administration. Earlier in his career, he was a senior officer in the Army. In fact, he retired in 2000 as a brigadier general after 29 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Capka is the fourth general officer from the Corps of Engineers to join Dawson, which bills itself as an expert in "water resource, natural resources management and environmental permitting."

Vic Klatt exemplifies another type of lobbyist -- the entrepreneur. Klatt has returned for his second stint with Van Scoyoc Associates, after working as the Republican staff director for the House Committee on Education and Labor for the last couple of years.

This time he won't be a run-of-the-mill lobbyist. Rather he will help lead a new division that, in addition to lobbying, will consult businesses about education policy and may invest in those businesses, too.

"Education is a huge business that is affected every day by what's happening in Washington," Klatt said. "A lot of education revolves around government regulations and government funding."

Klatt said that he will inform education companies about government developments and perhaps raise capital to invest in the most promising of those firms. That makes his new gig a sort of lobbying hedge fund, an idea that's not new but is likely to grow in the years to come.

Hire of the Week

The Livingston Group has named former eight-term congressman Bob Clement (D-Tenn.) as a consultant. Clement's addition marks a continuation of efforts by the firm headed by former representative Bob Livingston (R-La.) to bolster its standing among (and its entree to) the Democrats in charge of Congress.

Clement's appointment follows the recent naming of two Democratic partners of the lobbying firm: former congressman Dennis Hertel (Mich.) and former assistant commerce secretary Lauri J. Fitz-Pegado.

Since leaving the House in 2003 after a failed race for Senate, Clement has, among other things, headed the Clement Museum foundation, which will open soon. It honors his father, Frank G. Clement, a three-term governor of Tennessee.

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