Organizing for Action, the president's political committee, now says that it won't take contributions from lobbyists. Does this pledge mean much? Open Secrets reports that lobbyists -- as opposed to the interests that they represent -- are a minor source of political money.
In the 2012 cycle, super PACs raised $838 million. But according to a CRP analysis, donations from registered lobbyists to super PACs amounted to just $837,000, or less than one-tenth of one percent of all super PAC money. We don't know how much money registered lobbyists may have given to nondisclosing nonprofits, for obvious reasons.
Lobbyists' contributions to political campaigns have traditionally been more of an issue because of limits on donations to candidates. A lobbyist can give as much as any other individual -- for any one candidate, $2,600 for the primary and the same for the general election -- but if the lobbyist represents a corporation, and if that corporation's employees and PAC are also giving, the lobbyist's contributions are a useful way to extend a company's ability to make an impact with a candidate.
In contrast, there's no limit on how much can be given to a super PAC or 501(c) organization. Enter the billionaires, who play in a league that most lobbyists can't hope to join. The men and women of K Street, while they make a very good living, simply don't have the resources to make the massive contributions that were seen in the last campaign cycle.
For example, the biggest donor to outside groups from the world of registered lobbyists was C. Boyden Gray -- a former White House counsel who was closely aligned with the Romney campaign. He gave $225,000 to four different conservative super PACs, including $100,000 to Restore Our Future, the super PAC that backed Romney. Only one other lobbyist gave six figures to any outside spending group: Democratic lobbyist Andrew L. Woods, who gave $100,000 to Majority PAC, the super PAC that supported Senate Democrats. The donations by Gray and Woods are sizable sums, but not enough, in either case, to warrant a spot on our list of top 100 donors to outside groups in 2012.
Most lobbyists' contributions to outside groups would be a rounding error for many of the most active super PACs. The median gift from this group was $1,000 in 2012.
OFA's ban on accepting money from registered lobbyists may have symbolic value, but it's unlikely that the rule shuts the door on any signficant contributions.