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September 8, 2006
Cantwell Provided $11 Million To Lobbyist/Advisor's Clients

Senator Maria Cantwell, running in a tight race for re-election in Washington, provided millions of dollars in federal spending to clients of a lobbyist that also serves as an advisor on her campaign. The AP reports that Cantwell's former campaign manager, Ron Dotzauer, represents clients who got $9.6 million in earmarks on a dam project and another client that received $2 million for biotechnology efforts:

Cantwell, a Democrat who is in a tight re-election race, has reported for years that former campaign manager Ron Dotzauer owes her between $15,000 and $50,000 for a personal loan predating her first Senate election in 2000. Dotzauer now runs a lobbying firm.

The loan was still listed as outstanding on the financial disclosure report Cantwell filed in May. The senator's office said Dotzauer continues to advise informally Cantwell's campaign as an unpaid adviser.

Since last fall, Cantwell has helped persuade Senate appropriators to set aside $9.6 million — known as "earmarks" in congressional parlance — for a dam project benefiting two clients of Dotzauer's firm and $2 million more for the biotechnology company Inologic also represented by his firm.

The existence of the personal loan suggests something other than normal lobbyist relations. First, it's strange to have a registered lobbyist acting in any sort of capacity in an election campaign. It's not illegal, but it certainly makes Cantwell look indebted to Dotzauer for her political survival. Of course, we now find out that Dotzauer's in debt to Cantwell financially, which makes Cantwell's earmarks look like attempts to give Doztauer enough money to pay her back.

In a political environment that already has too many ties to lobbyists, Cantwell has managed to find new ways to make lobbyist relations even more incestuous than usual.

How much money did Dotzauer's firm make on these lobbying efforts? Strategies 360 billed Puget Sound Energy $20,000 in 2005 for pushing the dam project. They made more than ten times that amount representing the Cacade Water Alliance over a period of years, collecting $220,000. The two companies got an earmark specific to their project at Lake Tapps worth $1.5 million, quite a return on their investment, as well as an additional $8.1 million in federal money for the dam project overall, which will have indirect benefits for the two companies. Strategies 360 also billed Inologic $150,000 for lobbying Cantwell and Patty Murray to secure a $2 million earmark for an anti-radiation drug, money that came from the defense appropriation.

For less that $400,000, Dotzauer delivered $11 million in earmarks to firms while serving as an advisor and a debtor to Maria Cantwell. That may be a good investment for Dotzauer's clients, but Washington voters should question whether they want a Senator who literally takes her political cues from lobbyists. They should also question whether Cantwell expected to get her money back by funneling federal contracts to a man who owed her a substantial amount of money.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 8, 2006 6:33 AM

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