Dec 3, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Senate Dems receive max donations from Nord Stream 2 lobbyist

Illustration of a pipe opened up with cash spewing out
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A major Democratic donor and Nord Stream 2 lobbyist has made maximum campaign contributions this year to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and vulnerable Senate Democrats, campaign finance records show.

Why it matters: If pressure from the White House to vote against reimposing sanctions on the Russia-backed natural gas pipeline weren't enough, Democrats who back such legislation also will be at loggerheads with one of their party's top fundraisers.

Driving the news: Vincent Roberti, a former Connecticut state representative, has given the legal maximum of $5,800 to Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Patty Murray (Wash.).

  • He's also given $2,900 — the maximum primary contribution — to Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H).
  • Both Cortez Masto and Hassan face competitive reelection fights next year.
  • Roberti's firm, Roberti Global, has been paid $8.5 million for its Nord Stream 2 lobbying work, according to lobbying disclosure records.

Between the lines: Roberti has long been a prolific Democratic fundraiser, as well as a regular donor.

  • According to his company bio, he retains honorary titles at the Democrats' House and Senate campaign arms — titles reserved for their top financial backers.
  • He's also donated to each of these senators in past cycles while working for the pipeline.

What they're saying: "Sen. Hassan has supported strong action against Nord Stream 2, including voting for sanctions in 2017 and as part of the FY20 and FY21 defense authorizations," a spokesperson told Axios.

  • “Sen. Blumenthal is opposed to the Nord Stream II pipeline,” his spokesperson said. “Sen. Blumenthal has been a strong advocate for Ukraine in the Senate and supports Sen. [Robert] Menendez’s amendment to trigger severe sanctions if Russia escalates actions against Ukraine, including on Nord Stream II.”
  • "Sen. Cortez Masto opposes Nord Stream 2 and the Biden administration's decision to allow the pipeline to move forward. She has consistently supported legislation and sanctions to block it,” an aide told Axios.
  • Schumer hasn’t spoken to Roberti about this issue, his spokesperson said.
  • Roberti did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Roberti isn't the only Democratic heavyweight on this side of the pipeline issue.

  • McLarty Inbound, the foreign lobbying arm of Mack McLarty's consulting firm, is representing five companies with financial stakes in the Nord Stream project.
  • McLarty, former President Clinton's chief of staff, has donated himself this year to Schumer and Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia, Jacky Rosen of Nevada, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Pat Leahy of Vermont and Chris Coons of Delaware.
  • He's not involved with lobbying on behalf of any of those five companies, according to Richard Burt, McLarty Inbound's managing partner.
  • Asked about Nord Stream in the context of his lobbying work, which has included advocacy related to "Russia sanctions issues," Burt told Axios, "You should talk to the people representing Nord Stream 2.

The big picture: President Biden's decision to let Nord Stream 2 move forward — as well as its efforts to block a Nord Stream 2 sanctions amendment from being attached to Congress' annual defense bill — has sparked a fierce fight on Capitol Hill.

  • That, in turn, has thrust the Senate's potential vote into the spotlight.
  • Republicans have blocked dozens of Biden's foreign-policy nominees in response to the administration's actions.
  • They're also threatening to block the National Defense Authorization Act if Schumer doesn't agree to put the sanctions amendment on the floor.

The backdrop: Democrats and Republicans have for years opposed Nord Stream 2, which would circumvent Ukrainian transit infrastructure and deliver Russian gas directly to Germany.

  • Biden waived sanctions against the operator of Nord Stream 2 in the spring to help repair U.S. relations with Germany.
  • The White House argues the pipeline was already too close to completion to be blocked, and sanctions would undermine "transatlantic unity."
  • Ukraine, though, views Nord Stream 2 as an existential threat that would eliminate one of the last deterrents the country has against a Russian invasion of its territory.

Go deeper: Fight over Putin's pipeline consumes Congress.

Go deeper