Peter Overby

As NPR's correspondent covering campaign finance and lobbying, Peter Overby totes around a business card that reads Power, Money & Influence Correspondent. Some of his lobbyist sources call it the best job title in Washington.

Overby was awarded an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia silver baton for his coverage of the 2000 campaign and the 2001 Senate vote to tighten the rules on campaign finance. The citation said his reporting "set the bar" for the beat.

In 2008, he teamed up with the Center for Investigative Reporting on the Secret Money Project, an extended multimedia investigation of outside-money groups in federal elections.

Joining with NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook in 2009, Overby helped to produce Dollar Politics, a multimedia examination of the ties between lawmakers and lobbyists, as Congress considered the health-care overhaul bill. The series went on to win the annual award for excellence in Washington-based reporting given by the Radio and Television Correspondents Association.

Because life is about more than politics, even in Washington, Overby has veered off his beat long enough to do a few other stories, including an appreciation of R&B star Jackie Wilson and a look back at an 1887 shooting in the Capitol, when an angry journalist fatally wounded a congressman-turned-lobbyist.

Before coming to NPR in 1994, Overby was senior editor at Common Cause Magazine, where he shared a 1992 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for magazine writing. His work has appeared in publications ranging from the Congressional Quarterly Guide to Congress and Los Angeles Times to the Utne Reader and Reader's Digest (including the large-print edition).

Overby is a Washington-area native and lives in Northern Virginia with his family.

The presidential candidates are wrestling with the issue of political money, which emerged as a bigger issue this cycle than in any presidential race since the 1970s.

Bernie Sanders started last week's Democratic debate with this point: "We have today a campaign finance system which is corrupt, which is undermining American democracy, which allows Wall Street and billionaires to pour huge sums of money into the political process."

And Hillary Clinton, closing the debate, said, "We agree that we've gotta get unaccountable money out of politics."

Here's a question for New Hampshire voters. Would you have voted for Jeb Bush if he'd given you $1,086?

Bush didn't offer that, obviously. But that's the amount his campaign and superPAC spent on TV ads in New Hampshire for each vote Bush received in the primary on Tuesday.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders both pledged their allegiance Thursday to the cause of campaign finance reform during the final Democratic presidential debate before the New Hampshire primary.

Polls show that many Americans agree: Too much money comes from too few donors. The candidates' solutions, predictably, were somewhat less certain.

SuperPACs

The Takeaways:

  • Republican candidates raised more than $227 million in 2015, less than the GOP field raised in 2011.
  • The year-end reports include the first disclosure of big money from Donald Trump and reveal the precarious state of Jeb Bush's White House bid.
  • Some wealthy conservative donors, including Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, haven't put their money behind any GOP candidate yet. Big donors on the Democratic side are behind Hillary Clinton.

Update at at 6:30 p.m. ET on Friday: Sen. Ted Cruz gave the Federal Election Commission an accounting of his campaign loans Thursday evening. The Cruz for Senate treasurer acknowledged in a letter that Cruz's loans to the campaign were underwritten by a margin loan from Goldman Sachs, where his wife is a managing director, and a line of credit from Citibank.

When this presidential campaign got underway last spring, the buzz was that a candidate would be propelled by passing off the heavy costs of TV advertising to a friendly superPAC. But now the opposite is true.

Donald Trump, leading the Republican field, has no superPAC. Some other superPACs are pouring cash into TV, but their candidates are stuck low in the polls.

Trump just recently started buying TV time, after months of depending on news coverage to promote his campaign.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Earlier this month, Hillary Clinton attended her first event for an organization called the Hillary Victory Fund. About 160 guests attended, and the event grossed more than $5 million.

The Hillary Victory Fund is a joint fundraising committee for Hillary for America, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic committees of 32 states and Puerto Rico.

If it seems like there are a lot more presidential ads on TV than in past campaign cycles, it's because there are.

It's a fair bet that in 1934, five years into the Great Depression and a year into the New Deal, Congress wasn't thinking about a political future that would be rife with secretly financed political groups.

Even as negotiators struggled this week at the Paris summit on climate change, Senate Republicans held a subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill to challenge the underlying science. They called it "Data or Dogma?"

An alliance of anti-establishment Republicans and Democrats in Congress is seeking to hold down at least one kind of political spending.

Hard-line conservatives say GOP leaders want to undermine Tea Party-style newcomers who challenge the Washington establishment. Progressives see their own leaders ready to write off a long-standing provision of campaign finance law, and permit big donors' money to flow more freely.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Florida mailman and gyrocopter pilot Doug Hughes has pleaded guilty to one felony for his campaign-finance reform caper last April. He landed his flying machine on the Capitol lawn before authorities apprehended him.

He meant to deliver individual letters to all senators and House members, urging them to clamp down on superPACs, "dark money" groups and millionaire donors. That didn't work out. He was arrested; Capitol police confiscated the letters and prosecutors hit him with six charges.

The superPAC backing Jeb Bush seemed to have everything it needed. It went into the primaries with the most money by far. Right to Rise USA had raised $103 million by June 30, with plenty of help from Bush before he officially announced his candidacy and could no longer legally ask for big contributions.

In September, Right to Rise put the money to work, announcing it would buy $24 million worth of TV ads in the first three nominating states: Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

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