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Chapter 22

Over three decades, Gerald Cassidy and his wife have given politicians more than a million dollars in campaign contributions -- "the great equalizer."

By Robert G. Kaiser and Derek Willis

On May 24, 2001, Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont, a Republican all his life, announced he would vote with the Democrats in the Senate. His shift suddenly gave the Democrats a working majority of 51, making Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) the majority leader.

Two weeks later, Daschle's political action committee held a long-planned fundraising gala. Among the donations recorded that June 7 were four checks totaling $18,000 from Gerald Cassidy and his wife, Loretta.

Just a coincidence? When asked, Cassidy replied with a big laugh. Daschle, he said, was an old personal friend whom he had known for decades. "The whole time Tom was in the Senate," Cassidy said, "I only lobbied him once." The contribution was not connected to the sudden change in Daschle's political fortunes, Cassidy said.

Daschle is the politician the Cassidys have supported most generously over the years. He is in first place on a list of the top recipients of their largesse -- but only because of the $18,000 given on that June 7, the biggest contribution the Cassidys have ever given to Daschle.

The Cassidy's have long been giving liberally to their favorite politicians, overwhelmingly Democrats. According to Cassidy himself and to the records kept by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), the Cassidys have made more than a $1 million in political contributions since he became a lobbyist three decades ago. (Many lobbyists' spouses are listed as donors to politicians, probably because legal limits on contributions apply to individuals, not families.) The history of their giving reflects the history of campaign finance in America.

Cassidy became a lobbyist in 1975, but his political contributions remained modest for more than a decade. As recently as the 1981-82 election cycle, a prehistoric era in terms of campaign finance, Cassidy and his wife together gave just $3,500 to politicians. Ten years later the number had grown more than tenfold, to $38,400 in the 1991-1992 cycle. By 1999-2000, the Cassidys' contributions totaled $160,250, according to the FEC records -- an explosion that reflected the increased costs of political campaigns and the use of "soft money" in campaigns beginning in 1996.

Cassidy has always encouraged his employees to donate to political campaigns, and they, too, have given generously: at least $5.3 million since 1978, according to FEC records. (The records are not perfect; this $5.3 million number tabulates the total contributions of everyone who listed Cassidy & Associates or one of its affiliates as their employer.) The biggest recipients of this largesse are mostly members of the House and Senate appropriations committees -- no surprise, given the importance of earmarked appropriations in Cassidy's business. Members of the leadership, especially the Democratic leadership, also rank high on the list. Democrats got twice as much as Republicans from all Cassidy employees.

For Cassidy, making contributions is a fundamental aspect of his job. Contributions by themselves don't buy votes or create friends, he says, but they do help demonstrate support for the members with whom he has relationships. Giving money in the context of today's high-cost political campaigns is a meaningful expression of loyalty, he believes, and loyalty should always be part of a good relationship.

"I grew up ..... where I didn't learn to trust a lot of people, but I also grew up to learn the value of loyalty, of those people who are loyal to you, and returning that," he said in one of the many long interviews he gave for this series of articles.

"I have guys I've supported since 1974 who are friends of mine," Cassidy said on another occasion. "And I would really feel bad if they went out on a defeat. ..... Certainly you support members where you have an interest. You encourage your clients to contribute because it's part of the political process. And you support people because you believe in them."

Cassidy's contributions have given him standing in Washington's political community, and standing has always been important to Cassidy, a shy man who has always dealt with other people warily. "Money is the great equalizer for lobbyists," observed Jonathan Orloff, a former Cassidy employee, now an independent lobbyist, who came to the firm from the staff of Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1986. "Even if you are not very smart or charming, money makes up for a lot."

Former Rep. Tom DeLay's "K Street Project," intended to compel lobbyists to support Republicans more systematically, enshrined the notion that lobbyists who wanted to influence the House Republican leadership had to help it raise lots of money. As Cassidy acknowledges, the underlying idea has always been part of his approach to lobbying: When you are asking people for help, you give help in return.

But the list of his important relationships has never been long. Cassidy extends his own loyalty fiercely, but cautiously. A compilation of his and his employees' contributions demonstrates his long-term commitments to a core group of senior members, including Daschle; Daschle's successor as Democratic leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev.); Kennedy; Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the House majority whip; Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Committee and a long-time supporter of earmarked appropriations; Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee, whose closest friend, Henry Giugni, was hired as a lobbyist by Cassidy, and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa.), the Senate appropriator who came to Cassidy's defense in 1986 when Cassidy was criticized by name on the Senate floor [See Chapter 9].

Cassidy has given money to many other members. The graphics and databases below show political contributions from Gerald and Loretta Cassidy, as well as Cassidy & Associates employees. Contributions made by the Ocean Spray Cranberry PAC, which Cassidy has managed for 30 years, can be viewed at opensecrets.org. Good relationships are good for business, as Cassidy acknowledges. For example, one of his good relationships has been with Kennedy. Cassidy has always had clients among the many universities in Massachusetts, and Kennedy has always tried to help his state universities get federal dollars.

A Democratic Start for Cassidy Contributions

Employees' giving to Republicans increases with change in Congress

[Graph: Comparing Cassidy & Associates political contributions to Republicans and Democrats from 1980 to 2006]

Database: All Cassidy & Associates political contributions, 1979-2006 »

SOURCE: Federal Election Commission data
GRAPHIC: Alyson Hurt and Derek Willis, washingtonpost.com - April 3, 2007

Top Recipients of Cassidy Cash

RecipientTotalFirst Contribution
DSCC$229,200Sept. 1984
DNC221,120Sept. 1992
DCCC186,050March 1982
John Murtha (D-Pa.)95,300July 1987
Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.)79,551Nov. 1979
Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)73,881July 1984
Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.)69,787June 1988
Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii)66,211Oct. 1985
Tom Daschle (D-S.D.)64,086Sept. 1989
Ray LaHood (R-Ill.)63,797May 1994

Full List of Recipients »

For 25 years, Kennedy has helped Cassidy help Boston University. BU has received more than $106 million in earmarked appropriations from Congress and has paid Cassidy $12-15 million in fees. The Cassidys have given Kennedy's campaigns and his leadership PAC $20,150, and Cassidy employees have given nearly $60,000. A PAC controlled by Cassidy gave $38,500 more. That's a total of nearly $120,000 over 27 years.

All of this is perfectly legal and, in today's Washington, perfectly normal. Politicians accept money from lobbyists and other special interests in large and steadily increasing quantities. The Center for Responsive Politics has calculated that lobbyists have contributed more than $100 million to politicians since 1989.

[Photo]
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The McCain-Feingold law, passed in 2002 to reform the campaign finance system, actually allowed lobbyists to become more important sources of members' money. McCain-Feingold, now known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), raised the legal limit on one person's combined contributions to federal candidates and PACs from $25,000 per year to $101,400 per two-year election cycle. And this number will henceforth be adjusted upward for inflation every two years. Before the law was passed, contributions to political parties known as "soft money" were not covered by these limits, but BCRA banned soft money.

In notorious cases like that of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.), who is now serving an eight-year prison term on corruption charges, members have actually sold their services, but this isn't typical. What is typical is members asking lobbyists for money, and the lobbyists providing it, directly or indirectly.

Members of Congress "don't legislate; they basically follow the money," said retired Rep. Leon Panetta of California in an interview last fall. "They're spending more and more time dialing for dollars. ..... The only place they have to go are the lobbyists. They carry around a whole list of names, and they just keep dialing. It has become an addiction that they can't break."

Cassidy agrees that the pressure for money comes from members of Congress, not from lobbyists' urge to curry favor with members. He has no problem succumbing to the pressure. So he gives his own money, and raises several times more than he gives from clients, friends, colleagues, whomever.

There is no reliable way to trace how much clients and friends may have given in response to Cassidy's requests. "I raise a lot of money from friends who have not a damn thing to do with what goes on here [in Washington] ..... I have friends I can call up and say look, I think this guy is somebody who has the same position you do on stem cell research or something and ought to get reelected."

Nor is there a reliable way to measure just what Cassidy, or any lobbyist, gets in return for their contributions. Gregg Hartley, a Republican whom Cassidy hired in 2003 to run the firm's day-to-day affairs, summarized the ambiguous relationship between donations and favors in an interview: "I would presume that lobbyists who participate heavily in the political process are probably more successful by and large."

Hartley describes contributing money as one form of participation, and he puts his money where his analysis is: In the 2006 cycle, Hartley and his wife, Mary, contributed $103,023 to political committees and campaigns. Cassidy acknowledged that when your contributions help produce a desired result, as Cassidy's did last November when his Democrats reclaimed control of Congress, you reap multiple benefits. The election result, Cassidy said, "was something that was really important, and I enjoyed it, and there will be a [business] benefit from it as well."

At Cassidy & Associates, the political giving was institutionalized. "Gerry saw it as a means to distinguish yourself from your competitors," said Larry Grossman, who worked with Cassidy from 1992 to 2003 "He raised money for members with the utmost professionalism." That included designating one Democratic colleague (Grossman played this role for years) and one Republican to be in charge of fundraisers sponsored by the firm. Members of Congress or their staffs would contact those individuals to ask if the firm could stage a fundraiser, or someone at Cassidy & Associates would suggest holding an event for someone they were trying to cultivate. Cassidy himself always made the final decision about whom would be supported in this way.

Breakfast at 8 a.m. was the most common fundraising event. Cassidy, colleagues said, liked to tell a member in advance that the firm would raise, say, $10,000, then produce $12,000 or more when it was over. He also made sure every seat in the firm's "medium conference room" was filled for the occasion, even if non-contributing interns had to be added to fill the chairs around the big table. Other events have been held outside the office, in Washington clubs and restaurants. From 1998 until this year, Cassidy & Associates has put on more than 150 such events, according to FEC records, which are incomplete.

Giving money "is not a requirement [to be] a successful lobbyist," Cassidy said. If Congress passed a law providing public funding for campaigns, eliminating the need for candidates to raise money to run for office, "there would still be people in Washington who were successful lobbyists ..... But I don't think I'll ever see it. Ever."

Database Editor Derek Willis collected and analyzed campaign finance records. Washington Post research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

Tomorrow: Cassidy's relationship with one of his biggest clients turns into melodrama.
About This Series | Chapters:

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An overview of Gerald Cassidy's life and career.

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Let me see if I understand the gist of this report. Gerald Cassidy has donated generously to Democratic candidates and liberal causes. Although there is not even a single whiff of scandal, influence peddling, cronyism, or anything illegal or even improper, the mere FACT of giving generously is equated with the sleazy, underhanded activities of Jack Abramoff and the others whose bribery is in fact illegal.

I am actually one who advocates the complete and exclusive public financing of political campaigns and of legally defining any campaign contribution of any size or type beyond personal voluntary involvement to be the bribery that it is. But that is not our current system and Democrats are, or at least should be, permitted to operate within this system in a manner that at least provides some chance for success, until we can change the system to make it more fair and democratic.

It is curious why the Post would try to create a scandal where there seems not to be even the slightest whiff of one. I suppose it's merely to try to preserve the false notion that both parties are alike in this regard. They are not.

Posted by: FergusonFoont | April 3, 2007 07:31 AM

Glad to see some positive comments for a change in here, much needed relief from all the hate. And what could be better than public financing. Something I've always wanted. I remember a while back someone commented about a Roll Call article or something like that about Cassidy saying he's for public financing. Me too. I'm on board. And love that list of politicians up above. My kind of folks. So happy we're off on a better foot this week.

Posted by: John2.Bravo | April 3, 2007 09:58 AM

Fellow readers. It seems to me that for some of us our vision of the forest has become obscured by the trees.

Over the last few days many of the comments have focused on a couple of areas: the revelation of aspects of Mr. Cassidy's persona that are less than flattering; and the question of whether he should or should not be a subject of this series since he is his a "private" individual and what he and his firm does is nobody's business but their own.

As to the issue of privacy:

Mr. Cassidy has come up with an original and clever way to manipulate the Congress of the United States so that substantial sums of money flow from the treasury to his clients. This, it seems to me is a fact and beyond argument.

The money in question did not arrive in the coffers of the Treasury as a gift from Providence. It consists of money taken from my pocket, and yours, in the form of taxes -- tax dollars.

Money in the Treasury is not a private thing, it is a public thing. Those of us who are citizens are fully entitled to know where that money goes, for what purpose and how it came to be sent there. There are no limits that I know of on this entitlement of ours.

Mr. Cassidy's system works thus:

*He persuades or helps persuade Congress to earmark appropriated monies so that they go directly from the Treasury to his clients.

*His clients directly or indirectly take a portion of those monies and pay them to Mr. Cassidy as a fee for persuading Congress to do the deed.

*Mr. Cassidy becomes enormously wealthy in this process.

*He gives a (rather small it seems to me) portion of his fees to members of congress and persuades others to join with him in this undertaking.

*The members of congress use that money to aid in their reelection to another term where the system begins all over again.

Now, as I see it, these dollars that are flowing from congress-to-client-to-Cassidy-to-Congressman are dollars that originally came from my pocket -- and yours-- in the form of taxes.

Thus Mr. Cassidy's opulent lifestyle is being financed by me and millions of other taxpayers. Every bottle of Dom Perignon comes from us.

So the question is: do I have a right to know about all this thanks to Mr. Kaiser and The Washington Post. I rather think the answer is yes. And I think this answer holds regardless of how swell a guy Mr. Cassidy may be or how generous he is with his (read my and yours) money.

Now I have an idea that this proposition would shock and outrage the likes of Mr. Cassidy and Sheila Tate on the grounds that we "munchkins" having once paid our tax dollars are no longer entitled to have a say about how they are manipulated and distributed by virtuous citizens such as themselves.

Well, they can gnaw the carpet all they want fellow readers. I think it is my money that they and their clients are enjoying and I think I have a right to know about it and make my opinion heard.

If Mr. Cassidy doesn't care for the glare of publicity then he could direct his undoubted talents and abilities to another field of endeavor where the source of the money is private, not public.

Beyond the question of who gets the money and by what means, lies a much greater issue that I think The Post and Mr. Kaiser are illuminating here and for which I think they deserve a great deal of credit.

That is the issue of what is happening to our government.

The rise over the last 20-30 years of the K Street Barons and their effect on our system of government is both astonishing and troubling. It all comes down to money. Vast sums of it sloshing around and it's effect on members of congress.

The power and influence of these Barons has become such that today it could be argued that they constitute a fourth, unelected, branch of government.

As a rule they don't much welcome the spotlight of newspaper or media coverage. However, I think the more the better. I think this business of an increasingly powerful coterie of K Street Barons is something the public is going to have to come to grips with and deal with before too very much longer.

As to the less flattering aspects of Mr. Cassidy's persona, that happens when the portrait of a person is painted warts and all. None of us would care to see a true and accurate portrait of ourselves described in the public press. I don't think Mr. kaiser has been unduly harsh, or, I would guess, inaccurate.

As for Ms. Tate and the "munchkins" it is indeed distressing that she should have been forced to relinquish the rarified atmosphere of the White House and her patron, that paragon of Christian charity, Nancy Reagan, and forced to rub shoulders with the hoi poloi.

It might be remembered that the problems facing her clients that were so brilliantly solved by the deep thinking of Mr. Cassidy involved how to get federal tax dollars, again yours and mine, transferred from the Treasury to those clients so that they could pay a portion of it in fees that would go into Ms. Tate's pocketbook.

And, as to her professed earlier admiration for Mr. Kaiser before her current disillusionment on that subject.... Since when has the press secretary for the wife of a Republican president, in this case Nancy Reagan, been an admirer of an associate editor of The Washington Post.

Reporters, to your posts! This clearly comes under the heading of man bites dog.

Unless, of course, Ms. Tate was being just the tiniest bit disingenuous.

David Jewell -- Philadelphia


Posted by: dajewell | April 3, 2007 10:40 AM

Looks like I spoke too soon, or at least was too optimistic. Well I still like the idea of public financing. Would that affect Hillary Clinton? She's got so much money. I'd love to see other guys -- Kucinich, Biden -- be able to compete. I want more talk about issues like Iraq and less about the money chase. I guess I'm just being too optimistic again.

Posted by: John2.Bravo | April 3, 2007 11:00 AM

Hey, has Obama released his fundraising figures yet? I haven't seen. But I sure am curious. I bet he's right up there with Hillary. Edwards looking good too?

Posted by: John2.Bravo | April 3, 2007 11:26 AM

Thank you for your EXCELLENT summary David Jewell !!

Posted by: elenalouise | April 3, 2007 11:38 AM

Yes, bravo Mr. Jewell!

Posted by: MaryZ | April 3, 2007 12:30 PM

It's nice to see the Post finally mention some of Mr. Cassidy's charitable works. Unfortunately it comes after several hatchet jobs that are invasive and simply do not meet the standard of responsible and ethical journalism.

Posted by: tjg4444 | April 3, 2007 12:48 PM

Aren't we just the dopiest people in this country thinking that we vote for the people who will represent us in Congress. I can't afford the present prices of "support" and, therefore, I'll get little in the way of representation unless it's part of the lobbying package. That's something I'm waiting to see.

The more I read, the more disheartened and disenfranchised I feel. Both sides of the aisle play the same game so finger pointing is a waste of time.

Posted by: njblair | April 3, 2007 12:54 PM

Oh, this is good news. I just read a story -- actually, here on the Post web site, it was from AP I think -- that Hillary Clinton is backing public funds for campaigns. I'm not a big Hillary fan. Too inside the Beltway for me, too cozy with the establishment. But at least she's on the right side of this issue. I can't forgive her for Iraq, you know. But I'm glad she supports public financing of campaigns. Now about that apology for Iraq vote ....

Posted by: John2.Bravo | April 3, 2007 12:59 PM

Nancy Reagan has what to do with this? That makes about as much sense as anything Mr. Bravo has said.

Has anybody noticed that yesterday's story about the Cassidy charitable contributions got zero play on the front page of yesterday's Post, but this one got the logo back and higher placement?

As I've said here before, what I care about is fairness in journalism. I still can't decide whether this is ultimately a hit piece or not, but even on something as dry as this subject, it seems the Post's web team is playing to sensationalism...

Posted by: sportsfan | April 3, 2007 03:05 PM

Well done, Mr. Jewell. Anyone still think lobbying is not the vanguard of corporatism leading us into fascism? Anyone? Where are the Cassidy hounds attacking Mr. Jewell personally for telling the truth? Why did not the Washington Post filter him and his anti-lobbyist hate speech out of the comments? Maybe because their PR campaign is blowing up in their face and damage control at this point is futile. Again, good job, David. Keep it up.

Posted by: toddradian | April 3, 2007 03:10 PM

Mr. Todd:

Huh?

David Jewell - Philadelphia

Posted by: dajewell | April 3, 2007 03:23 PM

I agree. Huh?

And that's to both Mr. Todd and sportsfan.

Make that a double huh.

I'd rather hear from Barack Obama at this point. How much money has he raised?

Posted by: John2.Bravo | April 3, 2007 03:44 PM

Past posts explain all, David. Your commentary merely bolstered the point that lobbying is the nexus of corporate corruption and the legislative process. That is all. Not too confusing I would think.

Posted by: toddradian | April 3, 2007 04:05 PM

I agree that the present campaign finance system stinks, but it stinks because Congress (both parties) do not really want to fix it. Why? Because they do not know what will come on the other side of the 'fix'. Like the boy on the tiger's back -- if he stays on, he doesn't know where the tiger will take him; if he gets off, he might get eaten -- uncertainty. No side can tell whether it will come out ahead or behind. It is very simple -- and obvious.
That factor, coupled with an absence of leadership, in both parties and both Houses of Congress, lies at the heart of the issue.

Mr. Cassidy did not create the system -- he is only playing within its rules. Makes no difference what type of lobbying one is doing -- private sector-related, so-called public interest, etc. It's all the same -- with an exception here and there. Lots of cottage industries feed off the federal trough -- some disguised as operating in the "public interest" (an over-used term and very misleading).

The comments of FergusonFoont are interesting. Both parties very much operate within the system in the same fashion. They do, indeed, behave the same way. To believe otherwise is terribly naive-- at a minimum. We already have "personal voluntary involvement" called "in-kind". When some of those "involvements" are quantified into dollars, the numbers are quite high. Union & corporate "volunteers" put out signficant efforts (sometimes the definition of 'volunteer' is queationable here). The costs of these volunteer efforts are large.

In all the talk about public financing, it is good to remember that, at any point in time under such financing, somebody with a "view" on one side or the other would be dispersing the monies. The requisite policing effort would be enormous. Right now, about 11% of the public participates in the check-off on tax forms, which is telling.

Some day, when Congress, through better leadership, can reinforce its institutional backbone, we might come across a cleaner, better-smelling system. Until then, the best way to apply disinfectant is through sunlight in the form of wide-open registration of everything so that people can follow the money -- and thus, connect the dots.

Posted by: twilight5 | April 3, 2007 05:33 PM

If what you describe is not buying votes, I don't know what it is.

Posted by: skaiser | April 3, 2007 05:35 PM

Yes, I'm all aboard for public financing. Yes, yes, yes. Considering all the bucks Hillary has. But I'm still waiting for Obama's numbers. Helloooooo Barack?

Posted by: John2.Bravo | April 3, 2007 05:37 PM

I saw all those mentions above about Gerry Cassidy supporting public financing.

I did a little digging and guess what, he really does.

This is from Roll Call:

Cassidy himself, in an interview last week, declared that he not only supports
many of the reforms but would go further when it comes to money in politics.

"I would love to see public financing," he said in an interview at Cassidy &
Associates headquarters, which are decorated in the deep blues and golden
yellows of official Washington. "And I would go along with limits on the
contributions from lobbyists. It would take away any public suspicion that money
makes a difference."

Posted by: RotoBlue | April 3, 2007 08:33 PM

RotoBlue -- it's easy to be for something that experience tells you will not happen anytime soon. It is a good PR move, however. The first major lobbying firm to come out, in a newspaper that circulates on the Hill, in favor of "reform" -- pretty good move.

Incidentally, there are limits on what individual lobbyists can contribute -- those limits were raised, you may recall, with Campaign Finance Reform -- which might tell you something -- and give you some clues as to some new dig sites.

Do a little more digging down to the reality shelf.

Posted by: twilight5 | April 3, 2007 11:09 PM

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