While campaign finance laws may have dampened some of the political world's Super Bowl frolicking, at least four lawmakers are going to the Super Bowl and most of them are apparently using the event to host fundraisers, where they can collect campaign contributions and party with lobbyists and big donors over mojitos or martinis.
We're qualifying this information with the word "apparently" because we learned from our Super Bowl Blitz that politicians don't like to talk about their Super Bowl plans. ProPublica and more than 15 news organizations, local reporters, and a bunch of die-hard constituents contacted almost three-quarters of Congress and got answers from at least half of Congress in little more than a week. We and our readers asked two simple questions: Did you go to the Super Bowl last year? Are you going this year?
After repeated calls from our volunteers and our reporters, we confirmed that Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and Reps. Mike Pence, R-Ind., Steve Scalise R-La., whose teams are in the game, are going, as is Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., whose team is not. Getting their offices to confirm news reports about the fundraisers several of them are said to be holding was another matter altogether. Although politicians are renowned attention-seekers, with press operations that publicize just about everything they do, their spokespeople disappeared from the radar scope when our questions shifted to parties for lobbyists and big donors.
Other members may also be heading to the game. Rep. Greg Meeks, D-N.Y., went last year but his staff was "unsure" about this year and hasn't returned our recent phone calls. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., a current Senate candidate in whose district the game is being played, "very likely will be going," according to his press secretary. Current Florida Sen. George LeMieux's office said several days ago that he had "not decided," and nobody has not returned our subsequent calls.
So, what's next? The Super Bowl Blitz was the first of a two-part effort to figure out which members of Congress are going to the Super Bowl and how they got their tickets. Reporters Marcus Stern and Sebastian Jones are flying to Miami today, where they'll try to see which lobbyists and big donors are rubbing shoulders with the lawmakers at those fundraisers. We'll let you know what they find on Monday.
Just in case a member of Congress slipped through our survey's cracks, (we're still waiting to hear back from about 100 of them) we've taken a page out of Deadspin's playbook. We're asking readers attending the Super Bowl to be on the lookout for members of Congress and other VIP public officials. If you get one in your sights, snap a pic and send it to us -- along with details on where and when the pic was taken and your contact info (in case we need to follow up with you). The wider the shot, the better.
Now, that's the big project update. Some of you have asked us to discuss other (amusing and interesting) findings of our reader-powered Super Bowl Blitz.
Much to our dismay, several congressional offices refused to answer our volunteers' questions, saying that office policy forbids participation in "surveys." Included in this list are Reps. Jane Harman, D-Calif., Baron P. Hill, D-Ind., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore. Other offices -- like those of Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. -- said they don't disclose information about the congressperson's (personal) schedule.
But staffers in other offices freely dished about their bosses' schedules. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., isn't going to the Super Bowl, but she'll be in New Orleans watching it with Who Dat Nation. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., will be in D.C. working on health care legislation. Colorado Reps. Mike Coffman, a Republican, Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat, and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet are all watching the Super Bowl at home with their families. That's what Rep. Robert Wittman, R-Va., will be doing, too.
Staffers for a few members of Congress used the opportunity to slide in a compliment or alibi here or there. "Congressman Salazar has never been to the Super Bowl but in high school he could run the 40 in under 5 seconds, so he's hoping the Broncos will draft him and they can all get there someday," a staffer for Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., said. Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., didn't watch last year's showdown between the Cardinals and the Steelers because he was, in the words of his press secretary, "in the air between Kabul and Islamabad." Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., watched last year's Super Bowl with President Obama at the White House because the Cardinals were playing. Franks won't be at the White House -- or the Super Bowl -- this year.
Other staffers made sure to point out their bosses' loyalties. Anthony Weiner, a Democratic representative from New York, isn't attending "now that the Jets aren't going." Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., is rooting for the Saints.
As many of our volunteers found out, not all answers to the question "Is the congressperson going to the Super Bowl this year?" were equal. Participants got a slew of inconclusive replies that demanded further questions. Like: "The congressperson isn't planning on attending the Super Bowl." Or: "Why do you need to know?" ProPublica reporters spent yesterday following up with more than 30 members of Congress whose staffers had handed our volunteers wishy-washy responses. Fortunately, a second round of phone calls and a hard deadline cleared matters up.
We appreciate all the news organizations, reporters and constituents who came on board. (See the full list at the end of this piece.) More than 15 news organizations joined us. Although they all deserve credit, we'd be remiss if we didn't give additional thanks to Crain's New York Business, which dialed through most of New York. A bunch of reporters shared their notebooks with us. And there were the retired journos, a former producer and a nurse who cranked through calls towards the Blitz's end -- including but not limited to Robert Davey, Amy Biegelsen, Sherrie Jossen, Charlene Olson, EJ Rotert, Nancy Sheldon and Sandy Gonzalez.
The Super Bowl Blitz is part of a continuing effort here at ProPublica to try to reveal the circumstances surrounding campaign contributions and the very private exchanges that take place between lobbyists and members of Congress. If you missed out on the Blitz but want to get involved in similar events, sign up here and we'll notify you of our next project. Or, you can wait until we publish our story on Monday to decide.
The following news organizations jumped aboard: American Public Media, California Watch, Crain's New York Business, Huffington Post Investigative Fund, Investigate West, MinnPost, New England Center for Investigative Reporting, Orange County Register, Raleigh Public Record, Sunlight Foundation’s Party Time, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, WHYY, WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show.
We were assisted by individual reporters and editors at the following publications: Juliana Keeping, AnnArbor.com; Brent Gardner Smith, Aspen Daily News; Jake Torry, Columbus Dispatch; Laura Bischoff, Dayton Daily News; Malia Zimmerman, Hawaii Reporter; Warren Cooper, Hunterdon County Democrat; Kathleen McLaughlin, Indianapolis Business Journal; Lara Cooper, Noozhawk.com; Erin Siegal, Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism; Michael Collins, Scripps Howard News Service; Thomas Blinkhorn, Valley News; Edward Marshall, WBBM TV, Chicago; WHRV radio, Nofolk, Va.; Brent Wistrom, Wichita Eagle; Charlie Foster, Youth Radio; Wendy Norris, WesternCitizen.
The following individuals made many calls: Michael Alcantar, Rahul Bali, Amy Biegelsen, Jim Brice, Al Cannistraro, M. Coyle, Casey Cunniff, Robert Davey, Debbie DiMaio, Tim Duda, Sandy Gonzalez, Sherrie Jossen, Neelima June, David Kagan, Hee Jin Kang, Memrie King, Trent Larson, Lionel Logan, Laura Marsan, Cathy McMullen, Robert Melder Sr., Jeff Mende, Ted Michel, Matt Muma, Krishna Murphy, Charles Normann, Michael Olsen, Arash Payan, Diana Perparos, Nicole Pilar, EJ Rotert, Nancy Sheldon, CoConnie Snyder, Jacquelin Sufak, Claire Taylor, Jane Leatherman Van Praag, Sharon Whatley, Paul Wilczynski, Jane Wylen, John Zavesky.