Issues

Dem Super PAC’s Top Aides Evade Lobbyist Hiring Ban

New Senate Majority PAC policy announced by ‘senior adviser’ to lobbying firm, former Harry Reid staffer

Sen. Hary Reid / AP

A leading Democratic super PAC says it will no longer employ lobbyists in the wake of a scandal involving contributions to the group, but one of the executives who announced the move directs a politically connected nonprofit whose corporate supporters have landed billions in federal subsidies.

Senate Majority PAC fired a staffer in April after an indictment against Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.) alleged that the unnamed individual earmarked $300,000 in contributions from Salomon Melgen, a Democratic mega-donor, to be spent on Menendez’s behalf in exchange for gifts.

"We take our separation from official government action very seriously and do not advocate legislation before the Senate," a Senate Majority PAC spokesperson said after the indictment was announced.

The group’s lobbyist prohibition, announced in an executive board memo reported by CQ Roll Call last week, is an effort to address the scandal. However, one of the memo’s authors works for a lobbying firm and another serves on the board of a corporate-backed nonprofit that engages in policy advocacy.

The Senate Majority PAC’s president, Susan McCue, is also a board member of the Clean Energy Project, a Nevada nonprofit that regularly gathers policymakers, lobbyists, and green energy companies hoping to secure government assistance.

The project’s founder, Rebecca Lambe, who co-chairs Senate Majority PAC, is a senior adviser at the lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates, a Clean Energy Project "partner" that represents green energy interests. Until April, Lambe’s Cassidy bio described her as a Clean Energy Project adviser.

According to the project’s latest annual filing with the Internal Revenue Service, it spent $564,987 on tax-exempt activities and $109,748 on lobbying in 2013. The lobbying total was the exact limit, to the dollar, that the organization was permitted to spend on lobbying activities in order comply with lobbying restrictions for 501(c)(3) charitable groups, according to IRS guidelines.

The project’s donors include a number of green energy companies that have received government backing thanks to the efforts of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.).

Lambe and McCue are both former Reid staffers, as is Kai Anderson, a Cassidy lobbyist who is currently lobbying the Senate on behalf of Apex Clean Energy on issues pertaining to wind energy.

Anderson’s other clients include MGM Resorts, which sponsored and hosted the Clean Energy Project’s 2015 Clean Energy Summit, and Ormat Nevada, a division of an Israeli green energy company that has donated to the project and received hundreds of millions in U.S. taxpayer support thanks to Reid’s advocacy. Ormat’s president has also donated directly to Reid.

Unlike Anderson, McCue and Lambe are not registered lobbyists. However, critics of Washington’s "revolving door" between policymaking and lobbying outfits have said that this type of arrangement violates the spirit of self-imposed prohibitions on the hiring of officially registered lobbyists.

"President Obama paints himself as a scourge of lobbyists, declaring ‘we have excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs,’ and that lobbyists ‘won’t work in my White House,’" wrote Tim Carney, director of the American Enterprise Institute’s Culture of Corruption Project, in a 2013 column on a White House policy similar to Senate Majority PAC’s. "But Obama doesn’t count you as a lobbyist if you’re not registered to lobby—even if you lobby the federal government on behalf of a corporate client."

Senate Majority PAC did not respond to a request for comment.