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When Lobbyists Pay To Meet With Congressmen

U.S. Capitol dome.
Charles Dharapak
/
AP

Yesterday, we reported on the fundraisers that lobbyists hold for Congressmen every day in Washington. Today, we hear what happens inside those events. The stories are part of our series on money in politics.

At a typical event, there's a member of Congress and a member of his or her staff who is in charge of collecting the checks. This person is known as the fundraiser.

"The fundraiser is standing in the room, and the fundraiser has 35,000 bucks in checks sitting in her pocket right now," says Jimmy Williams, a former lobbyist for the real estate industry. "And we're going to talk about public policy while we take the checks."

How much influence do those checks have over public policy?

Most of the time, checks don't by votes, Williams says. But they buy access. They buy an opportunity to make your case.

The rules are clear: Lobbyists use money from their political action committees to get access to lawmakers.

One time, Williams says, he took a couple clients to meet a Congressman when his PAC had fallen behind in its donations.

"I've put in two calls to your PAC director, and I haven't received any return phone calls," the Congressman said, according to Williams. "Now why am I taking this meeting?"

The minute he left the office, Williams called his PAC director, and she cut those checks.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alex Blumberg is a contributing editor for NPR's Planet Money. He is also a producer for the public radio program This American Life, and an adjunct professor of journalism at Columbia University. He has done radio documentaries on the U.S. Navy, people who do impersonations of their mothers and teenage Steve Forbes supporters. He won first place at the 2002 Third Coast International Audio Festival for his story "Yes, There is a Baby." His story on clinical medical ethicists won the 1999 Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI) award for best radio documentary.
Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.