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DNC to Return Lobbyist Donations Accepted in Violation of Internal Policy

June 5th 2011

Politics - Obama campaign bus

The Democratic National Committee will reimburse at least 10 registered federal lobbyists who donated to the committee—a violation of the organization’s stated policies—after OpenSecrets brought the donations to the DNC’s attention.

Research findicates the party accepted a number of contributions from federally registered lobbyists during the 2010 election cycle.

“We’re in the process of reimbursing the money,” DNC spokeswoman Caroline Ciccone said. “For whatever reason, be it human error, they gave donations that were out of line with our policy.”

In June 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama said that under his leadership, neither he nor the DNC would accept contributions from political action committees or registered federal lobbyists.

On the DNC’s website, a disclaimer states that contributions to the committee must not be “made from the funds of an individual registered as a federal lobbyist or a foreign agent, or an entity that is a federally registered lobbying firm or foreign agent.”

The DNC has also used this promise to attract donors, especially in pitches sent to the Organizing for America email list, the outgrowth of the 2008 Obama campaign, which existed as a project of the DNC after Obama’s election. In June 2008, Obama himself declared that “we will not take a dime from Washington lobbyists ... they will not fund my party.”

“This November,” one Organizing for America fund-raising email in August stated, “instead of asking for checks from PACs and lobbyists, we’re counting on 3 million grassroots donations to elect strong allies for President Obama.”

The donations made from registered federal lobbyists represent a very small fraction of the DNC’s total fund-raising, Ciccone said. The donations from registered lobbyists account for a few thousand dollars out of the $224 million war chest the DNC amassed during the 2010 election cycle.

During the 2008 election cycle, before the policy was in place, the DNC accepted $275,051 from active, registered federal lobbyists. This does not include donations from the spouses of registered federal lobbyists, from which the DNC continues to accept contributions.

The lobbyists who made these contributions to the DNC during the 2010 election cycle spanned a range of experiences and clients.

For example, Walker Roberts, a lobbyist at BGR Government Affairs who donated $200 to the DNC on October 15, 2010, according to a review of FEC records, boasts of serving “nearly 17 years under four chairmen on the staff of the House Committee on International Relations.” And his clients during the past two years have included IBM, the American Chamber of Commerce in China, and Raytheon, as well as the governments of India, Kazakhstan, and Poland.

Karen Hastie Williams, meanwhile, who donated $250 to the DNC in May 2010, is a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Each quarter for the past two years, she lobbied for legislation to provide compensation to the relatives of the victims of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa on behalf the group Kenya Bombing Families as part of her work at Crowell & Moring.

Other lobbyists whose contributions slipped into the DNC’s coffers during the past two years include:

  • Joan Wages, a lobbyist at Cash, Smith & Wages whose clients include the Association of Professional Flight Attendants and the National Women’s History Museum, who donated $500 to the DNC in June 2009;
  • Robert Wrigley, a lobbyist for Airbus North America, who donated $300 to the DNC four days before Obama’s inauguration; and
  • Sarah Vilms, a lobbyist at D.C. powerhouse Patton Boggs, who donated $500 to the DNC on October 12, 2010.

The DNC is the only party committee—Democratic or Republican—that has a policy to not accept donations from registered federal lobbyists.

Kathleen Ronayne writes for OpenSecrets.org, from where this article is adapted. Center for Responsive Politics research director Jihan Andoni and money-in-politics reporter Michael Beckel contributed to this article.

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