Best of 2017: Ten Stories of Money and Politics

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A billionaire president surrounded by the wealthiest cabinet in modern history. Special elections that shattered records for campaign spending. A foreign government spending millions on Facebook ads to influence an election.

Keeping pace with the news cycle in 2017 was not easy — but fear not.

For your holiday reading the OpenSecrets blog team has put together some of our favorite stories from this very memorable year in politics.

FEC is after Trump and his JFCs for anonymous donations, other violations

Mere days before his inauguration, then-President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign committee received a sharply worded letter from the Federal Election Commission about multiple campaign finance violations — from accepting contributions the legal limit to pocketing those from anonymous donors. “Refused” and “Anonymous” were frequent donors of Trump’s candidacy.

Senate vote on prescription drug price legislation calls loyalties into question

Americans want cheaper prescription drug prices, yet a proposal for importing lower-cost drugs from Canada failed in the Senate. Our analysis showed that senators who voted against the amendment had received vastly higher political contributions from the US pharmaceutical industry.

Seven years later: Blurred boundaries, more money

Next month is the eighth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling that gave birth to super PACs and a mechanism for funneling unlimited cash to influence US political campaigns. We reflected on the 5-4 court decision last year by tracking the rise of super PAC spending that has no appearance of stopping anytime soon.

More than Mar-a-Lago: Members of all Trump clubs could have access to the president

Mar-a-Lago resort is not only Trump’s so-called “Winter White House” but also an opportunity to mingle with the new president — assuming you can afford the $200,000 annual membership. A CRP analysis found that the Mar-a-Lagians whose names have been publicized have spent a minimum of $4.9 million on federal-level political contributions since 1989. More than three-quarters of that has gone to Republicans. 

Wellspring’s dark money crucial to judicial group, helps others in Trump orbit

A single conservative mega donor poured millions into a campaign that blocked Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, from filling the empty court seat later filled by Trump’s choice, Neil Gorsuch. CRP broke the story in its analysis of tax documents filed by Judicial Crisis Network, the small nonprofit behind the campaign.

250 donors shelled out $100k or more for Trump’s inauguration, providing 91% of funds

President Donald Trump raised over $100 million for his 2017 inaugural festivities, shattering previous records. In this story, we detailed the generous donors who funded Trump’s 2017 celebrations. For more, see the donors who gave more than $100,000 for recent inaugurations.

Dark money, super PAC spending surges ahead of 2018 midterms

Shadowy politically active nonprofits (or “dark money” groups), deep-pocketed super PACs and other outside groups have never spent so much, so early in an election cycle, our data shows. Outside groups spent nearly $48 million through August — or more than double the $21 million the groups spent at this point in the 2016 presidential election cycle.

Audit shows NRA spending surged $100 million amidst pro-Trump push in 2016

The National Rifle Association‘s spending surged by more than $100 million in 2016, surpassing any previous annual NRA spending totals on record, according to documents obtained by CRP. The NRA’s unprecedented spending helped deliver Donald Trump the White House and for Republicans, control of Congress.            

Money flows into net neutrality debate ahead of FCC vote

Roughly eight of 10 Americans opposed the Federal Communications Commission’s planned repeal of Obama-era net neutrality protections. It didn’t matter. The repeal passed 3-2 by along party lines, with the FCC’s Republican commissioners siding with the interests of internet service providers (ISPs).

Out of the swamp … or into the shadows?

Hordes of federal lobbyists have deliberately moved into the shadows to avoid the spotlight (and the reporting requirements) of an FEC-registered lobbyist, a CRP special report reveals. Our investigation found nearly a third of previously registered lobbyists who stayed at the same organization but are no longer registered have titles that indicate they may still be working on influencing policy.

Looking to the Future:

The 2017 special elections continue into the 2018, following a string of resignations this month. The 2018 midterms, which could determine which party control the House of Representatives are only 11 months away. Stay tuned…

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