Federal law limits how much corporate political action committees (PACs) can give to members of Congress, but high-powered K Street lobbysts have found a loophole that enables them to give an estimated $50 million to senators and representatives.
The gifts are in the form of dinners honoring the congressmen, according to the Sunlight Foundation, which released a report today describing how lobbysts are using the loophole to direct millions of dollars to influential members of Congress. Executive branch officials, including the president, can also be honored by such events.
But it's not just honoring dinners that are used by lobbyists to circumvent campaign contribution limits, according to Sunlight:
They also cover underwriting a conference or retreat held by officials, donating to a lawmaker’s charity and even giving to a nonprofit where a lawmaker sits on the board of directors. These situations, and some others, all fall under what the rule-makers—the Senate secretary and House clerk—call honorary and meeting expenses.
The biggest spenders were Chevron and Wal-Mart, which donated $2.9 million and $2.2 million respectively. And the biggest recipients were the Congressional Black Caucus with over $6 million, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus with over $4 million and President Barack Obama with over $1 million.
Nine of the top 10 recipients were Democrats, or in the case of the two ethnic caucus groups, heavily oriented to the Democratic Party. The lone top 10 recipient not associated with Democrats is Gen. David Petraus, recently appointed by President Obama as director of the CIA.
"Of the over $50 million in these reports, firms employing lobbyists spent $36.3 million honoring members of Congress and $11 million honoring executive branch officials in 2009 and 2010 In addition, nearly $645,000 went to legislative branch employees—mostly congressional staffers—the reports showed," Sunlight said in a news release describing the study.