Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., surrounded by, from left, his wife Elizabeth,… (Mark Zaleski/ASSOCIATED…)
In 2007, in the wake of the biggest lobbying scandal in decades, Congress limited the ability of family members to lobby their relatives in the House or Senate. But it declined to ban the practice entirely.
Since then, 56 relatives of lawmakers have been paid to influence Congress. More than 500 firms have spent more than $400 million on lobbying teams that include the relatives of members, according to a Washington Post analysis of disclosure forms.
The Post analysis shows that the interests of lawmakers and their relatives have overlapped to varying degrees on bills before Congress. In the past six years, for example, 36 congressional relatives — including spouses, children, siblings, parents and in-laws — have been paid to influence 250 bills passing through their family members’ congressional committees or sponsored by the members.
All of this is legal under the rules Congress has written for itself.
That lawmakers have relatives working as lobbyists has been widely reported over the years. Lawmakers have consistently said their relatives don’t lobby them directly. The 2007 overhaul prohibited spouses from direct lobbying but gave other relatives more leeway.
For the first time since the changes, however, The Post examination reveals the extent to which relatives are still paid to work on issues before their family members.
“It’s a technique of throwing money at the feet of the congressman who can influence my business,” said Craig Holman, a campaign finance and government ethics lobbyist for Public Citizen.
The family ties are another example of the intersection of lawmakers’ public and private interests, which The Post has been documenting in a year-long series. Earlier articles revealed lawmakers who secured earmarks for projects near properties they own, traded in stocks of companies lobbying on bills before them and pushed legislation affecting industries in which they had financial interests.
To examine lobbying, the newspaper mined a range of public documents, including records of lawmakers’ family connections compiled by Legistorm.com, a nonpartisan Web site that tracks congressional disclosures. The Post culled thousands of quarterly lobbyist disclosure reports and tracked legislation through the House and Senate to identify instances in which relatives were paid to lobby on matters that came before their congressional relatives.
In the mid-2000s, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal helped pressure lawmakers to pass ethics revisions. The 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act imposed disclosure rules on earmarks, banned gifts from lobbyists and, for the first time, addressed the behavior of lobbyists related to lawmakers.
The changes restrict — but do not prohibit — relatives of members from lobbying Congress. In the House, the overhaul does prohibit people from lobbying their lawmaker spouses or their offices. In the Senate, the rules went further and prohibited spouses and all immediate family members from being paid to lobby anyone in the Senate.
But the laws left a lot of space for relatives.
For example, in the Senate, a son-in-law is free to lobby his in-laws. In the House, lawmakers may be lobbied by their children and parents.
“I was arguing there should be an absolute ban,” Holman said. Lawmakers had no interest. “The reform that was passed is so narrow, it is easily sidestepped.”
Most relatives — 48 of the 56 — began their careers as congressional lobbyists only after they had family members elected to the House or Senate, records show.
Several lawmakers contacted by The Post said they impose firewalls between their public duties and their family ties. They also maintained that their votes were not influenced when companies hired their relatives.
The father of Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) was hired to lobby on two bills his son helped shape, records show. Under the 2007 changes, fathers like Clay Sr. are not prohibited from lobbying their sons in the House.
“No member of my family has ever discussed with me, or attempted to influence my actions regarding any pending legislation,” Rep. Clay said in a statement provided by his spokesman. “Many retired Members of Congress register as federal lobbyists, as allowed under the law. I would never tolerate or engage in any situation that presented even the appearance of a conflict of interest, or any violation of the rules of the U.S. House.”
The younger Clay, who in 2001 succeeded his father in office, co-sponsored a proposed law in 2010 that would give investors the right to sue people who help others commit securities fraud. His father, William Lacy Clay Sr., was hired to lobby on behalf of attorneys who bring investor lawsuits. The group paid $220,000 to the firm that employed Clay and three others to lobby on the bill and other issues.
The elder Clay did not respond to requests for comment.
Family of lobbyists, lawmakers