John F. Kerry yesterday disclosed nearly 200 meetings he has held with lobbyists since 1989, including dozens having business before his Senate committees, as the presumptive Democratic nominee sought to draw a sharp contrast with what he describes as the Bush administration's more secretive and expansive dealings with corporate lobbyists.
No member of Congress-turned-presidential candidate has ever listed in such detail contacts with lobbyists, who are paid to influence policy decisions.
In an 11-page document provided to The Washington Post before wider release today, the senator from Massachusetts detailed the participants and dates of private meetings in his Senate office with lobbyists representing clients including labor unions, trial lawyers, environmental groups, and such major corporations as Microsoft and IBM.
The records highlight Kerry's relationship with this city's most influential Democratic lobbyists, such as Thomas Hale Boggs Jr. of the powerhouse firm, Patton Boggs, who was granted several personal meetings, and telecommunications, technology and banking companies. In 1999, for instance, Kerry, who was working on several telecommunications issues, met twice with Ivan Seidenberg of Bell Atlantic (now Verizon) and lunched with Gerald Cassidy, a top lobbyist who represented several companies affected by the senator's actions on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Several lobbyists who met with Kerry, including John A. Merrigan of the law firm Piper Rudnick, have raised $50,000 or more for his presidential campaign. Merrigan has contributed $8,000 to Kerry campaigns since 1992 and Boggs, $5,000, according to Federal Election Commission data. The lobbyists who met with Kerry gave at least a combined $230,000 to his various campaigns over the last decade.
Kerry's records indicate that he tended mostly to traditional Democratic backers such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and home-state interests such as Raytheon Co., a defense contractor.
Kerry is moving quickly to address criticism from President Bush and others that he is refusing to provide voters a fuller view of everything from his personal finances to his combat and medical records. Since Tuesday night, Kerry has been posting his military records on his Web site and promised additional medical information soon.
The campaign also is rethinking its decision to keep secret the tax records of the candidate's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, a top aide said.
Going on offense
After days of playing defense on the disclosure issue, Kerry is going on the offensive by releasing these records. The extraordinary disclosure, which goes well beyond public disclosure laws, was an implicit and strategically timed challenge to Bush to prove that he is not in lobbyists' thrall, as Bush often portrays him. Kerry came under attack from Bush and Democratic rivals earlier in the campaign after it was reported he had received more money from lobbyists than any other senator over the past 15 years.
The White House is fighting to keep secret meetings between top administration officials and energy industry lobbyists. The Supreme Court on April 27 will decide whether Vice President Cheney should disclose meetings with oil, gas, coal and nuclear industry lobbyists conducted before he wrote a new national energy policy. Kerry has been a sharp critic of those deliberations, and demanded public disclosure.
"We released this information today," Kerry campaign spokesman, Chad Clanton said. "Now it's the Bush campaign's turn to release the list of oil company lobbyists in Cheney's secret energy task force that rewrote our energy policy."
Bush campaign spokeswoman Nicolle Devenish called that a political ploy and said, "It's important for a president and vice president to be able to receive information from a wide range of perspectives as part of the deliberative process of policymaking at the executive level."
To differentiate himself from Bush and his Democratic rivals for president, Kerry, in the heat of the primary campaign, said one of his first acts as president would be to issue an executive order requiring public records of meetings between government officials and lobbyists. On Jan. 19, Kerry said he would practice what he was preaching by "happily" releasing his contacts with lobbyists.
Soon after, he instructed his staff to review his schedules over the past 15 years to come up the with list, which aides say took nearly three months to the day to complete. The list covers meetings between 1989 and February of this year; it does not include phone conversations and more casual contacts with lobbyists. "One can do a lot of business over the phone with senators," said Democratic lobbyist Anthony T. Podesta, who met with Kerry on May 4, 1999.
The Kerry list appears to be incomplete. Several lobbyists contacted say they had additional encounters with the Massachusetts Democrat over the years that are not listed on the report.
Robert E. Juliano, a Democratic lobbyist, says he remembers dining with Kerry more than once between 1989 and October 2003. He is listed as having dinner with Kerry only on July 21, 1999. "I couldn't begin to tell you how many times" he dined with Kerry over that period, he said.
It is impossible to compare the number of meetings Kerry had with other senators. Under law, lobbyists must register with the government and describe in broad terms who they are seeking to influence and on what issues. White House officials and members of Congress are not required to disclose their contacts, which makes Kerry's voluntary disclosure unique, not only among presidential candidates but also lawmakers.
Clearly, Kerry met with a wide swath of the top Democratic lobbyists in Washington, including Christopher "Kip" O'Neill, son of former House speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.). He also met with former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine), now a lobbyist, former congressman and now lobbyist Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.), and former top Clinton aides now lobbyists, Harold M. Ickes and Ron Klain.
Kerry's membership on two of the Senate's premier money committees, Commerce and Finance, clearly made him a target for many interest groups, corporate and otherwise. In addition, in the early years covered by the list he was also a member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. That is apparently why he met on May 3, 1989, with Kip O'Neill and Edward L. Yingling, the top lobbyist for the American Bankers Association.
Kerry also had regular contacts with representatives of two of the fundamental money groups that undergird the Democratic Party, trial lawyers and organized labor. Lobbyists who represented Massachusetts interests or who were personally tied to the state met with Kerry often. These included O'Neill, who said he brought issues to Kerry that ranged from banking to teaching hospitals to telecommunications (O'Neill represented AT&T during the 1996 Telecommunications Act fight).
Kerry also met with fellow Massachusetts political figures such as Steve Grossman, onetime finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Phil Johnston, Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman who had represented state health interests, and the late Kirk O'Donnell, a former top aide to Speaker O'Neill.
"There was a certain comfort level there" meeting with the Massachusetts crowd, Kip O'Neill said. Kerry was a hard lawmaker to persuade, lobbyists said, and therefore he was not as beseeched as much as other lawmakers. "If your interests coincided he'd be a great advocate," Kip O'Neill said. "But he wouldn't carry anybody's water because he knew them or had a meeting with them."
For example, O'Neill recalled, Kerry sided with the Baby Bell companies rather than AT&T in the debate over telecommunications legislation.
Researcher Lucy Shackelford and database editor Sarah Cohen contributed to this report.