Peter Overby | WGLT

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?"

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The presidential campaigns reported their latest fundraising totals last night, and some were also talking about how wisely they're spending their donors' money. Here's NPR's Peter Overby.

The political network led by billionaires David and Charles Koch is building what's meant to be a seamless system of grass-roots groups, designed to advance the network's conservative and libertarian goals year in and year out, while also helping like-minded politicians.

This strategy could have come straight out of a labor union's handbook, or an Obama campaign memo: community organizing.

There's a fresh look at how transparent major companies are when it comes to their political activity.

More than two dozen companies on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index scored 90 percent or better, out of 100, in the new rankings.

A potentially controversial sentence in the prepared text of Pope Francis' address went unspoken when he delivered the speech to Congress.

The line appears to challenge the dominant role of money in American politics.

A paragraph in the prepared text quotes briefly from the Declaration of Independence — the passage on self-evident truths — and then says, "If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance."

What would it take to make the White House wannabes stop chasing after big donors? From 1975 to 1999, the answer was federal matching funds — money that candidates could get by raising more money from small donors and spending less time schmoozing with the well-heeled.

Now, the U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund, an advocate of more limits on campaign money, has produced a model of how that would affect the early stages of the 2016 race. The analysis assumes a 6-to-1 match, so the match would turn a $200 contribution into $1,400 for the candidate.

Opportunity and Freedom PAC, and its two siblings, Opportunity and Freedom PAC numbers 1 and 2, were meant to be heavyweight sluggers for Republican Rick Perry, providing big-budget support for his second presidential bid.

But Perry himself turned out to be a welterweight at best. The former Texas governor entered the race late, raised a skimpy $1.1 million by June 30 and "suspended" his campaign barely two months later.

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