Political donations down; special-interest lobbying up: Why's that?

At the moment, it’s a bad time to be a political fundraiser. The deep pockets of corporate and other donors normally counted on to keep the election money machine well-oiled have suddenly gone shallow.

According to Paul Kane and Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, donations are down — way down. Consider the first two months of 2005, 2007, and 2009: $48.8 million in ’05; $41.6 million in ’07; and a paltry $30.7 million this year. That’s expected, write the Post reporters, in the early months of odd-numbered years after presidential or mid-term contests.

It’s known as “donor fatigue.” It’s particularly bad at the moment because so many candidates dunned so many donors in an election year that saw the presidential election cost more than a billion dollars.

Toss in a nasty, hundred-year storm of a recession and whew, you’ve got trouble raising money for the mid-term political wars to come in 2010. Remember, the money needed for mid-term elections is needed now, not a year from now. Name-recognition efforts of challengers must begin now if they expect to have a prayer toppling incumbents.

Meanwhile, lobbying is a growth industry. According to the Center for Responsive Politics:

While companies across the board were losing record amounts of money and laying off employees last year, at least one industry seemed to weather the recession: lobbying. Special interests paid Washington lobbyists $3.2 billion in 2008, more than any other year on record and a 13.7 percent increase from 2007.

So what’s this mean? Big dollars aren’t flowing to politicians; they’re flowing to K Street lobbying firms. The federal government is handing out bailout money like candy. If you’re a deep-pocket corporate donor awash in recession blues, how would you invest your money?

Yep — lobby for part of that bailout bonanza. You can always buy a politician with the ROI later.

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