The lobbying industry’s favorite senator has turned Big Bank protections into a flood of campaign cash.
Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) received nearly $300,000 from lobbyists in 2012, making him the top recipient of K Street dollars, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Tester has denied the fact on multiple occasions, saying it is “not true.”
But a Washington Free Beacon review of campaign contributions reveals that Tester leads all Senators in lobbying cash. He is also flush in contributions from Wall Street firms and big banks, ranking second in the Senate for commercial bank donations, third for credit card companies, and tenth for investment banks.
Tester has received nearly $875,000 from the banking and real estate industries in 2012, despite his promise to “end the era of ‘too big to fail’ once and for all.” The influx in donations came after he led a failed fight against regulations that would have stopped banks from charging retailers exorbitant fees for debit card transactions—fees that drive up costs for consumers.
In June, Tester fell six votes short of blocking the Durbin Amendment, which would have capped the fees at 12 cents, down from the industry average of 44 cents—a practice that netted $17 billion for banks in 2009.
Tester won his seat during the 2006 Democratic wave by promising a more ethical government. His opponent, incumbent Conrad Burns, was linked to the Jack Abramoff scandal. Burns was the largest congressional recipient of campaign funds from Abramoff’s lobbying clients.
Tester campaigned as an outsider and championed lobbying reform in the Senate. In 2006, he signed a restrictive ethics pledge that forbid him from accepting lobbying gifts or meeting with former staffers who become lobbyists.
That has not stopped Jason Rosenberg, Tester’s former point man to the Senate banking committee, from securing lucrative lobbying contracts from banks and credit card companies as vice president at K Street’s Glover Park Group.
Rosenberg’s clients are nearly all banking and financial firms and include some of Tester’s biggest fundraisers.
Rosenberg and his lobbying team earned over $1.1 million lobbying for the financial industry, including $130,000 JP Morgan. The bank is also Tester’s second largest donor, pumping nearly $50,000 into his campaign. Visa, another Rosenberg client, ranks fifth with $33,500 in contributions. Rosenberg’s biggest client, the American Bankers Association, is his former boss’s eighth biggest donor.
Several banking industry lobbyists have also opened up their wallets to Tester. More than a dozen lobbyists representing financial firms have contributed $24,400 to the campaign. Patton Boggs, K Street’s largest firm, has contributed nearly $20,000 to the campaign and also represents a number of banking interests.
Tester did not respond to calls for comment.
Tester also pledged to conduct annual ethics audits using an independent judge following his election. He has since reneged on the pledge, shifting to bi-annual audits citing logistical complications. Tester’s internal audits have not uncovered any ethical lapses; however, he will not conduct another examination before the November election.
“You’ve got to have somebody who will go to Washington, D.C. and fight for you. … I won’t sell you down the road by cutting deals with K Street lobbyists,” he said in 2006. “[Montanans] need the greatest representation not encumbered by high dollared lobbyists.”
Republicans say Tester's campaign donations cast doubt on his populist image.
“Jon Tester is very good at telling the people of Montana one thing and then doing another when in Washington D.C.," National Republican Senate Committee spokesman Lance Trover said. "He is now the number one recipient of lobbyist dollars, which helps explain why he supported President Obama’s massive spending proposals and government takeover of health care.”
Democratic senators comprise 13 of the top 15 recipients of lobbyist cash in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.