Peter Overby | Connecticut Public Radio
WNPR

Peter Overby

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.

Overby has covered scandals involving House Speaker Newt Gingrich, President Bill Clinton, lobbyist Jack Abramoff and others. He tracked the rise of campaign finance regulation as Congress passed campaign finance reform laws, and the rise of deregulation as Citizens United and other Supreme Court decisions rolled those laws back.

During President Trump's first year in office, Overby was on a team of NPR journalists covering conflicts of interest sparked by the Trump family business. He did some of the early investigations of dark money, dissecting a money network that influenced a Michigan judicial election in 2013, and — working with the Center for Investigative Reporting — surfacing below-the-radar attack groups in the 2008 presidential election.

In 2009, Overby co-reported Dollar Politics, a multimedia series on lawmakers, lobbyists and money as the Senate debated the Affordable Care Act. The series received an award for excellence from the Capitol Hill-based Radio and Television Correspondents Association. Earlier, he won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton for his coverage of the 2000 elections and 2001 Senate debate on campaign finance reform.

Prior to NPR, Overby was an editor/reporter for Common Cause Magazine, where he shared an Investigative Reporters and Editors award. He worked on daily newspapers for 10 years, and has freelanced for publications ranging from Utne Reader and the Congressional Quarterly Guide To Congress to the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.

Three advocacy organizations — across ideological lines — are telling congressional investigators to back off in a probe of EPA ties to a leading environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California and Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana are leading the investigation. They contend that NRDC lobbyists have exerted too much influence over EPA on the issues of carbon reduction and the proposed Pebble Mine at Bristol Bay, Alaska.

The costs of solar energy are plummeting, and now are about on par with the electricity generated at big power plants. This new reality intensifies a long-running business and regulatory battle, between the mainline electric utility companies and newer firms that provide solar systems for homeowners' rooftops. Sometimes the rivalry looks more like hardball politics than marketplace economics.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A new analysis takes aim at one of political science's evergreen topics: What do donors get in exchange for their campaign contributions?

The answer, according to three researchers at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business, is that "investments in on-going access to policymakers are associated with future tax benefits."

How much power should corporations wield in Washington? It's an enduring question — and now the Sunlight Foundation has devised a new way to gauge that power.

It's a record most Alaskans might wish they could give back: The Center for Public Integrity calculates that KTUU TV in Anchorage ran more U.S. Senate ads this cycle than any other television station in the country — 12,300 in all.

Those Senate spots made up the bulk of the 13,400 political ads since January. KTUU General Manager Andrew MacLeod says 2014 was the the station's busiest year ever. By contrast, off-year 2013 was relatively light.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And now another story of big, political money coming to small-town America. In Cole County, Missouri, a circuit court judge is fighting to stay on the bench. Her challenger was underfunded until he got some outside help. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

When you talk about "outside" money in politics, there's a good chance you'll talk about billionaire activists David and Charles Koch.

Especially if you're Harry Reid. The Senate majority leader regularly takes to the Senate floor to slam the Kochs for financing a network of conservative groups. Back in March, he said he was criticizing "two very wealthy brothers who intend to buy their own Congress, a Congress beholden to their money and bound to enact their radical philosophy."

Here's an odd twist in the midterm elections: Even though Republicans are generally expected to keep their majority in the House, it's the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that is raking in the bucks.

A big reason for the difference lies in online fundraising.

Republican Party leaders are urging big donors to start writing checks, and the check-writers now include Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

Tommy Boggs, a longtime lobbyist who in many ways epitomized the Washington establishment, has died. His sister, Morning Edition commentator Cokie Roberts, said he apparently had a heart attack.

Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., 73, pioneered a new, more professional way of lobbying starting in the 1960s, when he saw how power in Washington was becoming more diffuse. Clout on Capitol Hill spread from the House and Senate leadership to more junior members, especially in reforms after the Watergate scandal. In the executive branch, the number of regulatory agencies increased.

Rich families sustain American politics. Some produce candidates; others supply money. And in rare instances, a family will do both.

Meet Nebraska billionaire Joe Ricketts, founder of Ending Spending, an independent political organization that's among the top 10 spenders this election cycle. Three of his four children are politically active, including one who's running for governor.

A Billionaire With Political Punch

A former Iowa state senator says he concealed money he took for shifting loyalty from Rep. Michele Bachmann to then-Rep. Ron Paul during the 2012 presidential campaign.

There's always a certain amount of weirdness in the Iowa presidential caucuses, and in the 2012 cycle the peak weirdness might have come just before New Year's. Republican state Sen. Kent Sorenson, the Iowa chairman for Bachmann's campaign, jumped to the Paul campaign six days before the voting — immediately setting off rumors that he had taken a payoff for switching sides.

Finally, we now have a detailed IRS account of its attempts to resurrect the long-gone hard drive in Lois Lerner's computer.

But it's not definitive.

Lerner headed the tax-exempt organizations division in 2011, when it was dealing with hundreds of applications from conservative groups. They wanted status as 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations, so they could raise unlimited sums without identifying the donors and engage in extensive political activity.

Members of Congress face a deadline next Thursday — 90 days before the election — to put constituent newsletters in the mail. Carefully timing the mailings is just one fillip in the fine art of congressional communications, especially those that might suggest campaign messages.

Senate Democrats have rolled out this year's model of the DISCLOSE Act. Or, if you want to be more formal: the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act.

It's the third version of DISCLOSE since 2010. Broadly speaking, it would force donor disclosure on the big-money, 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations that are flourishing in post-Citizens United politics. Unlike almost all other players in an election campaign, 501(c)(4)s are not covered by the disclosure laws. Their donors are never publicly named.

Georgia Republicans picked their Senate nominee Tuesday night. Former corporate CEO David Perdue will face Democrat Michelle Nunn in the November general election.

Nunn, the daughter of a popular former senator, is among several Democratic female candidates who are showing strength as the party tries to preserve its Senate majority. She's also considered a real contender to turn the Georgia seat Democratic.

Here's the biggest recurring theme in the IRS controversy — the one about alleged targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

Throughout the yearlong investigation, congressional Republicans and Democrats have not only highlighted their own evidence but also taken the same evidence and drawn diametrically opposed conclusions.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

With new technology came a new type of Washington scandal: missing emails.

In the latest instance, the vanished emails belonged to Lois Lerner, former head of the exempt organizations division at IRS. She's the official who oversaw the scrutiny of applicants for tax-exempt status as 501(c)(4) social welfare groups — a process that conservatives allege was meant to block Tea Party groups.

The controversy blew up just over a year ago. Lerner was pushed out of the IRS; the House cited her for contempt of Congress.

In a newly issued report, a group of 11 theologians goes where the pols and lawyers dare not tread, with a faith-based analysis of money's role in politics. In "Lo$ing Faith In Our Democracy," published by Auburn Theological Seminary in New York, you can guess where it comes down on the big questions.

The tract asserts that the current political money system — with superPACs, secretive social welfare organizations and unlimited contributions — "does not take into account the needs of the poor."

The big numbers are in from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's stunning primary loss to Tea Party candidate David Brat.

First of all, the vote totals: 36,120 votes for Brat; 28,902 for Cantor.

Cash raised: Between the start of 2013 and May 21, 2014, Cantor raised $4.7 million. Brat raised a bit less than $207,000.

The School Nutrition Association — what you might call the national organization for lunch ladies (and gents) — says it was trying to improve the healthfulness of school lunches.

But it says the U.S. Agriculture Department didn't help when things got tough, so it went to Congress. House Republicans provided help, but they also put the group in the middle of a partisan battle over what to feed America's school students.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer has already pledged at least $50 million to his superPAC, NextGen Climate, and now the superPAC's leaders are laying out a hardball strategy for the fall campaign.

The goal: tag seven Republican candidates as "science deniers" who are on the wrong side of the increasingly urgent climate change issue.

It's been obvious ever since 2010 that Republicans and conservatives were spending a lot more slamming the Affordable Care Act than the Obama administration and Democrats were spending to defend it.

But 15 to 1?

Yes. That's the ratio calculated by Kantar Media's campaign media analysis group — CMAG to political junkies. Kantar estimates that national advertising against the ACA cost $418 million, compared with $27 million for ads supporting the law. Kantar calls the anti-ACA spending "unprecedented [and] largely unanswered."

Tea Party candidates did well in GOP primary elections in 2010 and 2012; this year, not so much. Part of this lack of success is because establishment candidates have generally out-raised them, and establishment-aligned outside groups are no longer reluctant to get involved in primaries.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

While the Supreme Court this month took another step in freeing up big political donors, another set of federal restrictions on political money is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The so-called pay-to-play rules — enforced by the Securities and Exchange Commission — are a narrow but powerful way to control political cash.

Think "pay to play" and you might think of video games or high school sports. But in politics, "pay to play" refers to something totally different — a particular kind of political corruption.

Newt 2012, the presidential campaign vehicle for Newt Gingrich last time around, couldn't bag the Republican nomination for him.

And now, the former House speaker's committee still owes $4.7 million from the attempt.

The campaign tells the Federal Election Commission that its debt on April 1, 2014, was just $14,507 less than the amount owed on May 31, 2012 — the month Gingrich officially suspended his White House bid.

Pages