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.

Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign celebrated his win in the South Carolina Republican primary with a so-called money bomb, a fundraising push to raise as much as possible.

It was a success. But its importance also shows the precarious financial state of Gingrich's campaign.

Spokesman R.C. Hammond says the campaign first set a target of $1 million, then doubled it and met it, all within 48 hours.

Saturday is South Carolina's Republican presidential primary. It's also the second anniversary of the Supreme Court's famous Citizens United decision.

That's the case that allows corporations to explicitly support or attack specific candidates. The day will be marked with attack ads — and protests.

The Republican presidential race has covered just three states so far. And superPACs linked to candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have spent a total of $20 million. They're feeding voters a heavy diet of negativity.

The South Carolina primary is a week from Saturday. Before then, voters there can expect to be inundated with ads attacking Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his role in Bain Capital.

"We made a $3.4 million ad buy in South Carolina, which is fairly significant," says Rick Tyler, senior adviser to the pro-Newt Gingrich SuperPAC Winning Our Future.

"Fairly significant" hardly does justice to the SuperPAC's plan.

This is the season of the presidential superPACs: They flooded Iowa with attack ads, and now they are looking ahead to primaries in South Carolina and Florida.

SuperPACs (political action committees) can solicit big, corporate contributions — something candidates can't do. And, according to the law, superPACs are barred from coordinating their ads with the candidates they support. But it's not nearly that simple.

A SuperPAC Attacks

The trillion-dollar budget bill that Congress passed last weekend includes plenty of non-spending provisions tucked into it. One of these so-called riders is aimed at saving the 100-watt incandescent light bulb.

But the move is more about politics than light.

Strictly speaking, the issue is this: Old-fashioned incandescent bulbs waste a lot of energy. So under federal law, they're being slowly phased out. The first to go, starting on New Year's Day, is the 100-watt bulb.

A tiny percentage of very wealthy Americans funded a relatively large chunk of the 2010 congressional midterm races, continuing a trend that has been growing for two decades, according to a new analysis of political contributions.

The Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for transparency in politics and government, found that fewer than 27,000 individuals (out of a population of 307 million) each gave at least $10,000 to federal political campaigns in 2010.

In between his speakership and his presidential candidacy, Newt Gingrich built a network of organizations to promote his causes — and himself.

Informally known as Newt Gingrich Inc., those entities have flourished. But questions linger, especially about two of them: the Gingrich Group, a for-profit consulting firm; and a unit of the Gingrich Group called the Center for Health Transformation.

The supercommittee's failure puts in motion automatic budget cuts for the Pentagon of $600 billion — a process called sequestration. On Monday, even before the supercommittee flamed out, defense workers in York, Pa., rallied to protect the Pentagon budget and perhaps their own jobs.

The local congressman, Republican Todd Platts, spoke to the workers and said that Republicans and Democrats in Congress should also do their work as Americans.

The 2012 presidential campaign is already being shaped by new rules for political money. The Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling allows corporations to jump into the presidential contest, as lower-court rulings and the Federal Election Commission provide new avenues through which corporate money can flow.

Polls continue to show former House Speaker Newt Gingrich solidly in the top tier of Republican presidential contenders. But at the same time, he is dogged by questions about a job he had after leaving Congress: consulting for the mortgage giant Freddie Mac — but not, he says, lobbying.

The questions began at the candidates' debate in Michigan last Wednesday, when CNBC's John Harwood asked Gingrich what he did for a $300,000 contract with Freddie Mac in 2006.

"I offered them advice on precisely what they didn't do," Gingrich said last week.

House Republicans have released emails related to solar panel maker Solyndra which got $535 million in government loan guarantees and then went bankrupt. Republicans say the emails show an Obama campaign bundler used his influence at the White House to make the loan happen.

If you want to know just how unhappy Americans are with their two-party government, a group called Americans Elect is ready to tell you.

The nonprofit group has scheduled a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday in a bid to show the Democratic and Republican establishments that voters want a third choice in presidential candidates.

It's a choice Americans Elect hopes to provide. This might sound like a third political party taking the field, but the group says that's not what it is.

'A New Force'

For the first time, 100 of America's biggest corporations are being rated on the transparency of their political activities.

On Friday, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the nonpartisan Center for Political Accountability will release an index that ranks the S&P 100 companies. The rankings come as politicians employ new loopholes — and the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision — to solicit secret, million-dollar contributions from corporate donors.

The latest batch of campaign finance reports adds a little clarity to the presidential race. For starters, President Obama's campaign reported a hefty $61 million on hand as of Sept. 30. But in the Republican primary race, things are in flux.

Five states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida — are trying to squeeze their contests into January. They all hope to boost their influence on the outcome.

So far in the Republican presidential contest, the poll numbers have been continually changing, with candidates moving up and then down again. The primary dates are also in flux, with at least four states moving theirs up to January to try to influence the outcome. But there's another set of numbers to watch: the candidates' fundraising totals.

With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (once again) declining to enter the Republican presidential primary race, his core group of financial industry fundraisers – a group that had been urging him to run – went looking for new candidates to endorse.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry's poll number may be sagging, but his campaign is flush with cash. Perry's campaign says it raised more than $17 million in the third quarter.

Perry entered the Republican presidential primary race in mid August with just 49 days left before the quarterly filing deadline. But in that short time he's shot to the top of the money race.

His $17 million haul likely outdoes front-runner Mitt Romney's efforts over the summer. Meanwhile, Perry's campaign says it's kept spending so low that it has $15 million cash on hand.

Presidential candidate Rick Perry's ties to campaign donors came under more scrutiny this week when he was challenged during Monday's Tea Party debate.

Perry defended taking a contribution from a drug company and then mandating use of the company's new vaccine. "I raised about $30 million, and if you're saying I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended," he said.

Actually, the drug company, Merck, has given Perry $28,500 overall. But that's still pocket change compared with what Perry's truly big donors have given.

Unions are under siege, as Republican governors have curtailed collective bargaining rights in some states. As well, national labor leaders say President Barack Obama and Democrats in Washington have let them down.

Consultants have been practically tripping over each other to launch superPACs backing Texas Gov. Rick Perry. However, some prospective donors may find presidential superPACs are a gray area.

By now there's a superPAC independently supporting every major presidential candidate. Three of these groups have surfaced to promote Perry. In California, Bob Schuman says he was ready to go before Perry was.

For members of Congress, August can be a time to reconnect with voters back home. One favorite way to do so has been the town hall meeting.

But this year, with voters angrier than ever, many lawmakers are choosing not to hold those meetings.

In Minnesota, one Republican freshman is trying to navigate his district's political currents.

'I Will Do My Best'

When he was running for Congress last year, Chip Cravaack told the same story, over and over, about how a town hall meeting — or the lack of one — had gotten him into politics.

The 12 lawmakers on the new deficit-cutting supercommittee have their hands full. They're under orders to bring Congress a plan for cutting the deficit by more than a trillion dollars, and to do it before Thanksgiving.

At the same time, they're also raising funds for their next campaigns, and that could be a problem if the supercommittee is under pressure to bite the hand that feeds them money.

Last week, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that concerns about supercommittee members and their fundraising are silly.

Pages