Our Sponsors


TaconicArts.com

Interior/Exterior House Painting by someone you can trust.
(845) 554-5119
jeff@taconicarts.com

House


Brown Ink
Commercial Printing

600 Horsepound Road, Kent Lakes, NY 10512 (845) 225-0177
Email Greg Brown


Joe Greico's
Out On A Limb

All types of tree work, all aspects of lawn maintenance, snow plowing, lot clearing, excavation, retaining walls, stump grinding.

82 Hortontown Rd.
Kent Cliffs, NY 10512
greico@verizon.net
T- (914)224-3049
F- (845)231-0815


Chuckie Goodnight Foundation

To educate children on how to be good stewards of the earth.


Hudson Valley Photo and Video

Photography by Chris Casaburi (845) 531-2358


Town of Kent Conservation Advisory Committee

Explore the outdoors in the Town of Kent, New York


One Click ButterCutter

The BEST way to handle butter!

A Putnam County Owned Business Enterprise


Activist Calendar

Politifact

Cost of Wars Since 2001

Influence Analytics: AT&T meets often with FCC officials

AT&T's logo on a storefront
Image credit: Flickr user Mike Mozart

AT&T and its intended, DirecTV, gain D.C. clout via their contributions, fundraising, and lobbying expenditures. Another way their power is revealed is in just how much they make themselves known before the Federal Communications Commission. The answer: a lot.

Over the past year alone, AT&T’s representatives have met with FCC staff, whether in person or on phone, on 45 different matters, according to analysis of meeting data posted by the FCC. This dwarfs the profile of not just DirecTV but also Comcast and Time Warner, two other companies that have proposed a major merger. Among the policies that garnered the most attention are the FCC’s initiative to repurpose TV broadcast spectrum to mobile broadband and a petition by the company for permission to experiment with technology transitions.

These companies also deploy their experts to comment on federal regulations far flung from the FCC. For example: Here is AT&T before the Food and Drug Administration on wireless health care devices, and DirecTV to the Department of Energy on energy efficiency of set top boxes, as seen on Docket Wrench. In other words, these are companies that not only know how to pull all the levers of government but have ample resources to do so.

To glean more on these companies’ influence in Washington, check out the following links:

 

 

 

[...]


Influence Analytics: Hard to follow hard money bundling

This is the week that lobbyists had to file their first quarter reports on Capitol Hill, and while there’s been lots of interesting analysis of what has been disclosed, we here at Sunlight got to thinking about what wasn’t:

In the first three months of 2014, only 18 individuals and organizations were named by federal campaign committees as lobbyist “bundlers”–those credited with raising money from others and delivering it in one convenient (and large) package to a candidate or party committee, according to Sunlight’s analysis of records filed with the Federal Election Commission.

While the FEC list includes high profile lobbyists (Tony Podesta and his estranged wife Heather Podesta are reported to have bundled $289,400 and $97,400, respectively, to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee), other names you’d expect to find aren’t there.

Over at Sunlight’s Party Time website, which tracks campaign fundraising parties, we count 513 people and organizations listed as hosts over the same time period. In other words, they are helping these candidates and party committees raise hard money by bringing together other donors. Sounds like bundling, no? Yet none of the Party Time hosts are reported as bundlers by campaign committees in the 2014 calendar year.

What gives?

No. 1: What looks like a bundle might not be a bundle, at least not in the strict legal sense. The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007  brought us official disclosure of bundled contributions by registered lobbyists. But the rules allow plenty of bundles to be dropped down the black hole of non-disclosure.

Campaigns have to report only bundles of $17,300 or more. These totals do not count any money contributed personally by a lobbyist.

So if lobbyist A convinces six of her colleagues to each contribute the maximum amount to Representative Z, and her spouse and herself each kick in another $2,600 apiece, for a total of $20,800, Representative Z would not need to report that as a bundle. Or, say ten lobbyists serve as hosts of a single fundraiser and the event raises $100,000. If that amount is allocated evenly among the ten hosts, the reporting threshold will not be triggered. Bingo: no disclosure.

Of the 137 lobbyist bundlers reported by campaigns in 2012, 52 appear in the Party Time database as hosting fundraising parties. At these same parties, they shared their hosting duties with 295 other registered lobbyists, none of whom show up in the official lobbying bundling reports, according to analysis by Craig Holman of Public Citizen in a recent article for the Election Law Journal (subscription required).

This is likely an underestimate of the number of lobbyists involved in fundraising–the Party Time database is fueled by volunteers who send us invitations, and is far from a complete dataset.

“What is clear is that the public is not getting a full picture of bundling activity, and that many lobbyists who are participating in bundling events are going undisclosed in the FECA bundling database,” writes Holman.

No. 2: The bundling disclosure law is limited to lobbyists. Many of the most prolific donors and bundlers in campaigns, however, are not registered as lobbyists–which is a very different thing from saying that they don’t have a pecuniary interest in a politician’s policies.

For example, Texas-based Republican donor Robert Rowling has opened his Dallas home to raise funds for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, and as head of the privately held TRT Holdings, he oversees an empire that includes Omni Hotels & Resorts, Tana Exploration Company, and Gold’s Gym.  Rowling’s giving patterns have supported his business interests: In 2009, he contributed generously to oppose a ballot initiative that would have squashed a Dallas development benefitting Omni; in the end, the Dallas City Council unanimously  voted to award TRT Holdings $2.3 million in tax abatements over ten years and a $200,000 economic development grant.

In the 2012 presidential campaign, President Barack Obama declared he would not take any campaign money from registered lobbyists. But he still voluntarily disclosed plenty of bundlers supporting his campaign, nearly 770 of them. The top industry represented were law firms, many of which house lobbying outfits.  GOP candidate Mitt Romney made no such promise, but also reported plenty of bundlers, according to OpenSecrets.org. The federal bundling disclosure law would not capture the lion’s share of these people.

In his Election Law Review article, Holman argues that an opportunity was lost in the 2007 lobbying reform law. “[T]he disclosure provision continues to apply only to lobbyists when it, too, should have been expanded to include all campaign finance bundlers,” he writes.

That doesn’t mean the law couldn’t be changed now. Sunlight has long advocated for exactly this: our 2008 Model Transparency bill included a provision expanding bundling disclosure to all bundlers, not just registered lobbyists. But meanwhile, it’s important to remember that what’s disclosed is only a very small part of the picture–particularly troubling following the U.S. Supreme Court’s in the McCutcheon case, which is expected to encourage more old fashioned maxed out hard money contributions to campaigns.

Also seen:  The Middle East is once again in the news with peace talks on life support. We took a look at some of the players in the crisis through the prism of Sunlight trackers.

Mentions of Hamas by lawmakers on the floor peaked in January 2009, when Israel invaded Gaza; mentions of Palestine Liberation Organization much lower overall (Capitol Words); Palestine and Israel foreign agent registration profiles (Foreign Influence Explorer); Hamas and Israel in legislation (Open Congress).

[...]


Political Party Time turns the tables

After a half-decade cataloguing political fundraising invitations (nearly 18,000 and counting!), the Sunlight Foundation decided to throw a bash of our own Tuesday to celebrate the fifth anniversary of our Political Party Time site.

Some of Party Time’s most loyal fans — dozens of journalists and civic activists who use our data to shine light on money and influence in politics — joined us to toast Party Time and tell favorite war stories.

“I’d like to thank Political Party Time for making sure I can never visit the city of Charlotte, N.C. ever again,” quipped Andy Sullivan of Reuters, referring to the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. “Thanks to the data you provided, I wrote a story that so angered the host committee of the DNC (Democratic National Committee) that I’m no longer welcome there.”

When it came to party planning, we must admit we had a lot of help. We’ve spent a lot of time studying the parties of the pros, so we used them for our inspiration.

It certainly helped that Sunlight is located in a townhouse, although data analysis reveals that our Dupont Circle location is a little off the most well-beaten fundraising path.  And we had loads of models for invitations! Sunlight creative director, Caitlin Weber, and reporter Keenan Steiner worked together to craft one that combined some of the best (worst?) of our favorites. Note the slightly off-kilter presentation, meant to give that authentic air of a document fresh off the fax machine — the way invites used to be delivered back at the dawn of Party Time.

And of course we wanted to abide by the same ethics guidelines as the folks whose parties we chronicle, so all of our food abided by the toothpick rule, which basically says its OK for a lobbyist to feed lawmakers and staffers as long as they don’t use silverware for their meal.  Alas, Sunlight is a non-profit, and our budget does not allow for hunks of Kobe beef on skewers. So we tried to make up for it by providing a really big toothpick, thanks to our colleague Tim Ball, a programmer who can whittle. Who knew?

A good time was had by all, and for a good cause. Michael Beckel of the Center for Public Integrity said it best:  “Party Time is a go-to resource for any money-in-politics reporter. There’s no other place that is a central repository of this information.”

(Graphic by Caitlin Weber and Keenan Steiner/Sunlight Foundation) 

[...]


Five years of Political Party Time

Hey, partying isn’t just for politicians and the folks who want to get a little face time with them! After a half decade spent on the outside looking in, we’re having a party of our own tonight to celebrate five years of Political Party Time, along with some friends who made it possible and the journalists who have used it to track the influence of money on politics. We’ve created some appropriately festive data visualizations to illustrate some of what we’ve learned from cataloguing nearly 18,000 invitations.

MORE:

We’ve told you before about the innovative ways our elected representatives raise cash: from assault rifle raffles to March Madness fund-a-thons to swanky out-of-town retreats. But taking a step back from all the invites shows some interesting trends. Below, we’ve tracked the cyclical nature of the political fundraising year, as well as Congress’ penchant for reversing the usual partying schedule (midweek, not weekends).  And its hard to find an hour of the day that’s party free: Between the early morning duck hunts and the convention after-parties, you have to get up sometime between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. to be completely safe from a political fundraising pitch.  Even those hours probably saw some fundraisers if you account for time differences with the funders we’ve chronicled in Israel, Paris, London, Shanghai.

Thanks for the memories Party Time! Here’s to five more years!!

[...]


90 Percent of Business Execs Support Transparency Reforms for Money-in-Politics

Transparent Business ManGood news for making the case for campaign finance transparency! The Committee for Economic Development, a nonpartisan business-oriented public policy nonprofit, released an illuminating report and survey of business leaders this week that shows large majorities of American business executives agree the campaign finance system is in need of complete overhaul, with 90 percent of survey respondents supporting reforms that disclose all individual, corporate and labor contributions to political committees.

Ninety percent. That’s a significant number that shows Sunlight and our supporters are certainly not alone in calling for improving campaign finance disclosure as piece of the puzzle in solving our broken political system.

Moreover, the call for fixing how political campaigns are funded is bipartisan. Republicans and Democrats both agreed to a large extent that major political contributors have too much influence on politicians. (Sixty-eight percent of Republicans support that statement, which is pretty close to the 71 percent of Democrats polled who agreed.) The business community is concerned that the way we finance elections is creating a “pay-to-play” system, with 64 percent of those surveyed saying this is a serious problem. Furthermore, more Republicans (52 percent) than Democrats (36 percent) think that politicians spend too much time and energy raising money (something eloquently articulated by This American Life in a segment produced last year in cooperation with Sunlight using data from our Party Time site).

I welcome these findings and hope they can bolster the ability of Sunlight and our allies to persuade Congress that even the business community believes transparency can be an antidote for the influence of big money in politics, particularly following the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC and SpeechNow v. FEC judicial decisions.

However, I would hope that CED would do more than just release this survey. To give this report teeth, it would be helpful to see CED commit to promoting transparency reforms. What about connecting more business leaders with advocates like Sunlight so we can finally create real-time, online transparency on the secret corporate and union money corrupting our elections, for instance?

Respondents to CED’s bipartisan survey are a combination of owner, president, CEOs, and other senior-level executives from companies with at least five employees. Read the report and methodology here.

photo credit: iStockphoto (as inspired by Magritte)

[...]


Do members of Congress headline fundraisers in exchange for floor votes?

We at the Sunlight Foundation spend a lot of time looking over the political fundraising invitations that keep pouring into our Political Party Time website. So we were very excited to read a paper by Yale Political Science Professor Eleanor Neff Powell, who used our Party Time data to investigate an often underappreciated aspect of the political fundraising circle: headlining for others.

By carefully analyzing the corpus of fundraising invitations that we’ve compiled over the years, Powell was able to uncover evidence of an economy of favors in the Washington fundraising circuit. Members of Congress who headline events for other members get something in return – votes for their legislation. Or, as Powell puts it:

Controlling for the ideological similarity of their past voting records, a Democratic Congressman is 5.5% more likely to vote for a bill for each fundraising event the bill’s sponsor has headlined for them in the past (Republican Congressmen are 2.5% more likely). These results show a strong relationship between fundraising assistance and subsequent legislative voting behavior and suggest potentially serious consequences for representation

The findings are explained in more detail in Powell’s recent paper, “Dollars to Votes: The Influence of Fundraising in Congress.” But the basic takeaway is pretty straightforward. Headlining events for your colleagues is a darn good way to build up goodwill. And that goodwill systematically translates into more support for votes on the floor.

Powell compiles the list of the members of Congress who appear most often at others’ fundraisers. It will probably not come as a surprise that pretty much all of them are in party leadership.

top fundraisers

Does it matter? Powell offers some of the consequences in her conclusion:

Members who frequently face expensive contested races for re-election are both consistently indebted to their colleagues, but also unable to accrue their own debts of gratitude. Thus these vulnerable members are both more likely to vote for contributing colleague’s legislative priorities, but also less likely to be able to recruit votes in a similar fashion for their own legislative priorities. Further, members who prove able and willing to draw in large-scale contributions and fundraising are substantially advantaged in achieving their personal legislative objectives.

In other words, those who are constantly in need of favors may need to compromise some of their positions – both because they have to vote for other members’ priorities and because they can’t build the same support for their own priorities. By contrast, those in safer seats have more luxury to build legislative coalitions through generous headlining.

Usually, we are troubled by fundraisers both because of the access that they provide to those who can afford to price of admission (usually on the order of one or two thousand dollars) and the way they take up members’ time. But Powell’s paper gives us another reason to be concerned about the fundraising circuit – the way in which it enables certain members to in effect trade headline appearances for votes.

[...]


Do members of Congress headline fundraisers in exchange for floor votes?

We at the Sunlight Foundation spend a lot of time looking over the political fundraising invitations that keep pouring into our Political Party Time website. So we were very excited to read a paper by Yale Political Science Professor Eleanor Neff Powell, who used our Party Time data to investigate an often underappreciated aspect of the political fundraising circle: headlining for others.

By carefully analyzing the corpus of fundraising invitations that we’ve compiled over the years, Powell was able to uncover evidence of an economy of favors in the Washington fundraising circuit. Members of Congress who headline events for other members get something in return – votes for their legislation. Or, as Powell puts it:

Controlling for the ideological similarity of their past voting records, a Democratic Congressman is 5.5% more likely to vote for a bill for each fundraising event the bill’s sponsor has headlined for them in the past (Republican Congressmen are 2.5% more likely). These results show a strong relationship between fundraising assistance and subsequent legislative voting behavior and suggest potentially serious consequences for representation

The findings are explained in more detail in Powell’s recent paper, “Dollars to Votes: The Influence of Fundraising in Congress.” But the basic takeaway is pretty straightforward. Headlining events for your colleagues is a darn good way to build up goodwill. And that goodwill systematically translates into more support for votes on the floor.

Powell compiles the list of the members of Congress who appear most often at others’ fundraisers. It will probably not come as a surprise that pretty much all of them are in party leadership.

top fundraisers

Does it matter? Powell offers some of the consequences in her conclusion:

Members who frequently face expensive contested races for re-election are both consistently indebted to their colleagues, but also unable to accrue their own debts of gratitude. Thus these vulnerable members are both more likely to vote for contributing colleague’s legislative priorities, but also less likely to be able to recruit votes in a similar fashion for their own legislative priorities. Further, members who prove able and willing to draw in large-scale contributions and fundraising are substantially advantaged in achieving their personal legislative objectives.

In other words, those who are constantly in need of favors may need to compromise some of their positions – both because they have to vote for other members’ priorities and because they can’t build the same support for their own priorities. By contrast, those in safer seats have more luxury to build legislative coalitions through generous headlining.

Usually, we are troubled by fundraisers both because of the access that they provide to those who can afford to price of admission (usually on the order of one or two thousand dollars) and the way they take up members’ time. But Powell’s paper gives us another reason to be concerned about the fundraising circuit – the way in which it enables certain members to in effect trade headline appearances for votes.

[...]


Rep. Cohen Games Politwoops to Get Out His Message

Sunlight Foundation's Politwoops catches deleted tweet from Rep. Steve Cohen (D - TN)Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) recently utilized the Sunlight Foundation’s Politwoops site that monitors deleted tweets from politicians to stage an elaborate trick on the media (or ethics lesson, depending on how you see it), saying, “The best way to get a message out is to tweet and delete.” The quote, documented by Washington Post and Politico reporters, came during the press conference Rep. Cohen held on Friday afternoon to discuss the recent deleted tweet that read: “@cyndilauper great night,couldn’t believe how hot u were.see you again next Tuesday.try a little tenderness. http://t.co/zz4Orccryf

In a press release issued following the news conference, Rep. Cohen said:

“On Tuesday night, the President and Mrs. Obama, along with the Grammys and PBS, hosted a musical tribute to Memphis Soul at the White House. Wanting to promote this great program, which will air this coming Tuesday on PBS, I realized the best way to do this was to tweet and delete. I knew the Sunlight Foundation would highlight the deleted tweet as a Politwoop and knowing how some in the media report deleted Politwoops as nefarious, it occurred to me that a perfectly innocent, factually-correct tweet, once deleted, would receive great media attention. And that is exactly what happened [...]”

We’re flattered Politwoops is becoming more a part of the political message machine, but this is hardly the first time deleted tweets surfaced by Politwoops were deleted specifically to appear in Politwoops. Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) gave a holiday greeting by politwooping “Merry Christmas to Byron and the politwoops crew” and Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) once deleted “This one is for Politwoops.” Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Rep David Schweikert (R-AZ) even tried to turn Politwoops into a hashtag, saying “You know what else has been deleted? Jobs in the Obama economy. Where are the jobs? #politwoops” and “Wish #politwoops would hold Obama and Holder accountable for their missing facts on #FastandFurious just as it does missing tweets.” As members of Congress learn about the existence of Politwoops, we’ve seen tweets simply readingtest” which may imply they are checking if the site tracks their particular accounts. Politwoops is a project to document messaging changes from politicians and it’s fascinating to see how the site’s role has developed since launching last May, including being named one of the 50 Best Websites of 2012 by TIME Magazine.

For things politicians can’t delete, check out their Influence Explorer and Party Time profiles to see who gives them money or holds fundraisers for them.

Update: Rep. Cohen’s statement on deleted tweets is surfaced by Politwoops after deleting the tweet:

My statement on deleted tweets http://t.co/xkg8Ub9Vek #CyndiLauper #MemphisSoul

[...]


The 12 Days of APIs

‘Tis the season for application programming interfaces. Sunlight is in a festive mood. Not only are we hosting a pretty rad open house this week, but we have the perfect present for the open data developer in your life: a Sunlight Labs API key! Here… [...]


Training Tuesdays: Free webinars every week to get you prepared for Election Day

There are 38 days left before the elections. Whether you are rejoicing the over a month left of punditry or silently cursing the five more weeks of what feels like the longest election cycle ever, we have a series of webinars to get you prepared for E… [...]