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.

His poll numbers are sinking. His TV blitz is nowhere to be seen. Big donors aren't flocking to him.

And if Donald Trump needed more tangible evidence of problems in his campaign, it's in reports filed Monday at the Federal Election Commission.

Three-year-old allegations of political influence at the Internal Revenue Service are being revived as two House committees move toward punishing the IRS commissioner, John Koskinen.

The House Oversight Committee this week voted on party lines to censure Koskinen. The House Judiciary Committee holds its second hearing next week on whether to impeach him.

"This all started with the IRS using its authorities to target certain conservative groups for their beliefs," Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said in prepared testimony to the Judiciary panel.

No other major party presidential candidate has ever made it through primary season financing a campaign the way Bernie Sanders has. The Vermont senator and self-described Democratic socialist did not throw swanky receptions to court donors who could write $2,700 checks, the limit allowed by law. Nor did Sanders encourage wealthy friends to launch a superPAC funded with unlimited contributions.

Instead, he relied on donors who gave small amounts online, over and over.

Presidents and leading presidential candidates often arrange their financial affairs to prevent the appearance of financial conflicts of interest. But there's never been a major party nominee quite like Donald Trump. If he's elected president, he would bring to the White House a unique potential for conflicts of interest. The typical tool in such situations is a blind trust, but given Trump's unique circumstances, a blind trust might not be up to the task of preventing him from profiting from decisions he would make as president.

Donald Trump's contempt for superPACs is well documented. All through the primary campaign, he said the political groups, which take unregulated contributions, give million-dollar donors the leverage to control politicians.

"We have to do something about superPACs. Because superPACs are now running the country," Trump told students last January at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. "Gotta get rid of superPACs. Really, really, really bad."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

As Donald Trump prepares to accept the Republican nomination, just over eight weeks away, he's let it be known he thinks the nominating conventions are boring.

He's right. Every nominee since 1980 has been known before the opening gavel. Floor fights are nearly extinct. The TV audience is dwindling.

Trump wants a flashier GOP convention. But the event already has its own controversy, because of the nominee himself.

It's about money.

The Sanders campaign feels the burn rate.

Its cash-on-hand plummeted last month, from $17.5 million in March to just $5.8 million on April 30. The numbers were reported in the campaign's monthly filing at the Federal Election Commission.

The drop followed a sharp fall-off in fundraising. Although Sanders has led Hillary Clinton in fundraising every month this year, April receipts totaled only $26.9 million, versus $46 million in March.

After months of bashing the Republican National Committee and big fundraisers, Donald Trump is getting on board.

"These are highly sophisticated killers, and when they give $5 million, or $2 million or $1 million to Jeb [Bush], they have him just like a puppet," Trump said at the Iowa State Fair last year. "He'll do whatever they want. He is their puppet."

But now the de facto GOP nominee has inked two joint fundraising agreements with the RNC and 11 state parties on Tuesday to start taking in enormous checks from big donors.

Contested primaries in both political parties have led to another cycle of record political ad spending, according to a new analysis of campaign advertising by the Wesleyan Media Project.

The analysis, which covers ads from Jan. 1, 2015, through May 8, 2016, tallies $408 million in ad spending compared to $120 million in 2012 when President Obama sought re-election.

Updated at 3 p.m. ET with details:

Heavily funded progressive organizations are coordinating a sustained effort to define apparent Republican nominee Donald Trump. They've been field-testing messages for months. Now they're primed to start filling the screens of TVs, computers and smartphones with hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of anti-Trump messages.

At the hub of the effort is the main Democratic superPAC, Priorities USA Action. It expects to spend $125 million in TV and digital messaging from this month to election day. That's twice as much as it spent in 2012.

Donald Trump likes to say he is self-funding his campaign. That isn't entirely true. He has actually lent his campaign about three-quarters of the $49 million or so that he has spent so far.

That means the campaign can pay him back if it has the money. But there's a deadline. Trump has 11 weeks to repay himself — exactly at the moment when he needs to pivot and start raising cash for the general election campaign.

With Bernie Sanders lopping hundreds of staffers from his campaign this week, it's easy to forget he has outraised and outspent Hillary Clinton every month this year. And not by just a little.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Bernie Sanders' campaign is accusing the Hillary Victory Fund of "serious apparent violations" of the campaign finance law. The Hillary Victory Fund is a joint fundraising committee for the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee and 32 state Democratic Party committees.

Is this a fact-check? No. There's a shortage of facts here, since we can't see the books of the various committees. This appears to be a political attack more than a legal case.

Organizing for Action, the grass-roots network born from the Obama campaigns, is now deep in the battle over confirming the president's nominee to the Supreme Court. These days, OFA is a nonprofit that organizes on progressive issues and trains future grass-roots gurus.

"You know this is very much an organization that is led by people out in their communities who care about the issues of the day," said Buffy Wicks, a member of OFA's board of advisers and a veteran of Obama's two presidential campaigns and his White House.

Police needed most of Monday afternoon to arrest all of the sit-down protesters outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington at a demonstration in favor of changing the rules on political money, voting rights and redistricting.

The politicians who would be president have a lot to say about money, at least when they're soliciting it.

They and their sidekick superPACs have raised a combined total of around $1 billion, according to NPR calculations from data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

The politicians who would be president have a lot to say about money, at least when they're soliciting it.

They and their sidekick superPACs have raised a combined total of around $1 billion, according to NPR calculations from data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

It was raining lightly when marchers of the Democracy Spring coalition set out Saturday, trudging past Independence Hall in Philadelphia on their way south toward Washington, D.C.

"I came on the train. Two days. Slept in the train station last night," Miram Kashia said, laughing. A self-proclaimed climate action warrior, she traveled from North Liberty, Iowa. She blamed political money's influence for blocking action on the climate, and added, "I'm retired but it's a full time job for me, being an activist."

As Ted Cruz insists he can still overtake GOP front-runner Donald Trump and win the Republican nomination outright, the Texas senator has an innovative and well-funded alliance of superPACs supporting his effort.

It's never clear what the truth is when a campaign ends, but it gets ugly.

Major fundraisers are among the people who are key in creating a campaign. And when campaigns fold, they talk sometimes — usually in blind quotes.

But one of the funders, who helped raise millions of dollars for a superPAC supporting Jeb Bush, talked on the record with NPR's Morning Edition -- and gave his version of what he felt went wrong.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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.

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.

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

Transcript

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