Lobbyists unlimited in honoring lawmakers

He said he was "very proud" of the foundation's work. The foundation, which funds non-profit groups in his congressional district, donated $375,000 for a $1.2 million Boys & Girls Club in Corsicana, Texas, says Sylvia Waters, a club director. "The bottom line is that there wouldn't be a Boys & Girls Club in Corsicana today if it wasn't for the Joe Barton Family Foundation," Barton said.

Lobbyist ties remain

Despite a pledge by congressional leaders to sever ties between lawmakers and special interests, the reports show lobbyists often give to non-profits associated with the lawmakers who regulate their industries.

Health care groups, for instance, give millions to the planned Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston. Pharmaceutical giant Amgen wrote the biggest check — $5 million in December — to the institute, which will honor Kennedy's more than four decades in Congress and promote the study of the U.S. Senate.

Aetna insurance company donated $50,000.

Kennedy, who is battling brain cancer, chairs the Senate's health and education committee and is at work on comprehensive health care legislation. Aetna has engaged in private talks with Kennedy aides on the bill, Aetna spokesman Mohit Ghose says.

Ghose says the donation was unrelated to those negotiations and instead "advances our goal of continuing to take a leadership role in public policy."

Kelley Davenport, a spokeswoman for Amgen, says the donation reflected the company's interest in lauding Kennedy's long career and in helping "young people to become engaged in public service and public policy."

Kennedy, the records show, was the most honored member of Congress, with a total of nearly $6 million. Most of the money went to the Kennedy institute.

Kennedy spokeswoman Melissa Wagoner and institute trustee Paul Kirk say the Democratic senator has steered clear of potential conflicts of interest with his official duties by not soliciting donations. In total, the organization has collected more than $20 million, according to a January institute news release.

"The principal reason fundraising is going so well is that there is an enormous outpouring of appreciation for Sen. Kennedy's public service," Kirk says.

Amgen spent the most in honor of members of Congress last year, the analysis found. It was among 20 corporations and unions responsible for $17.6 million — or nearly half — of the spending in honor of lawmakers and federal officials last year, the USA TODAY analysis shows. Those groups spent a total of $137.5 million to lobby Congress and federal agencies last year.

Amgen also donated to the Frontier Foundation in honor of Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., who is on the House panel that regulates the drug industry.

The foundation, which provides college scholarships and once was headed by Buyer's daughter, received $385,000 in donations from pharmaceutical companies from 2005 through 2007, according to its IRS filings.

Buyer, who has worked on health policy in Congress for years, helped kill a provision in 2007 opposed by drug companies and broadcasters that would have imposed a three-year ban on advertising new drugs, congressional records show. Consumer advocates, including the Consumers Union, pushed the measure, arguing that aggressive drug pitches unduly sway patients to seek treatment from drugs before their safety records have been established.

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