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.

The way some of President Trump's Cabinet officials tell it, their recent negative headlines haven't been about difficulties complying with federal ethics laws, but rather about "the optics."

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, in a House committee's hot seat last month after taking his wife on a government-funded trip to Europe, said, "I do recognize the optics of this are not good. I accept the responsibility for that."

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., questioning Shulkin, snapped back: "It's not the optics that are not good. It's the facts that are not good."

The British data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica has gone from mysterious genius to potential defendant as details emerge about its role in Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign. With conservative strategist Steve Bannon playing a founding role, backed by money from billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, the firm was able to develop data from 50 million Facebook users into a psychologically-based strategy to target voters.

The Federal Election Commission, better known for deadlocks than decisions, has unanimously agreed to take a first step against anonymous political advertising on the internet.

The proposed rule deals with disclaimers — the "authorized by" taglines that are mandatory in print, television and radio ads that explicitly support or attack candidates.

At least for one more day, the hills of southwestern Pennsylvania are alive with the sound of campaign cash.

Voters in the state's 18th Congressional District on Tuesday elect a new member of Congress. It's a surprisingly close race in this reliably Republican district between Democratic former prosecutor Conor Lamb and Republican state legislator Rick Saccone. GOP and conservative groups are shoveling in dollars to overcome Saccone's lackluster fundraising — this despite his claim that he "was Trump before Trump was Trump."

One regular part of White House press briefings these days is the update on corruption allegations in Trump's Cabinet.

Most recently, the questions have focused on Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who piggybacked a minivacation on taxpayer-paid travel to two conferences in Europe, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, a gifted brain surgeon in trouble for ordering custom-made chairs, dining table and hutch for his office. They cost $31,000.

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Let's look now at a scandal in the Trump administration that has not made a lot of headlines. It involves several Cabinet officials and the ways they've spent taxpayer money. NPR's Peter Overby has our story.

Updated at 2 p.m. ET

A federal ethics agency has ruled that one of President Trump's closest White House aides twice broke the law separating government from politics.

Kellyanne Conway, who was Trump's campaign manager in 2016, advocated for Republican Roy Moore in Alabama's recent Senate election during live television interviews broadcast from the White House lawn.

The Office of Special Counsel found Conway violated the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from using their office for partisan politics.

There's nothing like adversity to get political donors reaching for their credit cards, which made 2017 – Donald Trump's first year as president – the best year yet for the Democratic nonprofit ActBlue.

A conduit more than a solicitor of cash, ActBlue has been around since 2004. It's played a role in some of the Democrats' big fundraising successes, some fueled by a candidate's personality or message, and now increasingly stoked by anger or fear.

The Trump Organization sent the U.S. Treasury an undisclosed sum last week, in the first of what it says are annual payments to compensate for hotel profits from foreign officials.

"This voluntary contribution fulfills our pledge to donate profits from foreign government patronage at our hotels and similar businesses during President Trump's term in office," George Sorial, the company's chief compliance counsel, said in a written statement on Monday.

A Treasury spokeswoman confirmed the payment was received.

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Updated Feb. 15 at 5:30 p.m. ET

President Trump's inaugural committee raised twice as much as any of its predecessors, but its final filing with the IRS shows it spent most of the money on events that were significantly scaled back from past years.

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President Trump has picked a new chief for the Office of Government Ethics, seven months after the last confirmed head of the agency quit in frustration over his conflicts with the White House.

After the Watergate scandals in the 1970s, Congress passed a series of laws to reduce the influence of big donors in politics and to increase transparency. Forty years later, those laws have been weakened by additional legislation and a series of court decisions.

Where the Watergate reforms established a single regulated system used by all candidates to finance their political campaigns, there are now three separate systems.

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Updated at 1 p.m. ET

Barely a month ago, a federal judge in New York dismissed an anti-corruption lawsuit against President Trump.

But on Thursday, another federal judge, in a different courtroom, gave the same basic argument a much friendlier response.

Judge Peter Messitte, of federal district court in Greenbelt, Md., seemed sympathetic to the assertion that Trump profits from the nexus of his hotels and the presidency.

As President Trump marks the first anniversary of his inauguration, his lawyers are preparing for next week's preliminary arguments in a suit that alleges he is violating the Constitution's anti-corruption provisions, known as the foreign and domestic Emoluments Clauses.

President Trump marks his first year in the White House on Jan. 20. Since he took the oath, he's been dogged by questions about his hundreds of businesses and the conflicts of interest they pose.

In attempts to confront Trump and force him to address these conflicts, congressional Democrats, state attorneys general and watchdog groups have sued the president. So far, their cases have not advanced very far in court. A federal judge has dismissed one suit.

A federal district judge has dismissed a lawsuit alleging that President Trump is violating two anti-corruption provisions of the Constitution.

Judge George Daniels, in Manhattan, said the plaintiffs lack the necessary legal standing to sue. And he said the heart of the plaintiffs' case — the Constitution's Foreign Emoluments Clause — was something they couldn't even sue over.

The Foreign Emoluments Clause bars federal officials from taking gifts or rewards from foreign governments, unless Congress consents.

Updated at 5:49 p.m. ET

The anti-corruption organization Transparency International says Americans are expressing greater concern this year about wrongdoing within the U.S. government, and especially within the White House.

Wealthy Americans may get a new conduit for political money in the tax overhaul bill now being reconciled on Capitol Hill.

A small provision in the House version of the bill would let big donors secretly give unlimited amounts to independent political groups — and write off the contributions as charitable gifts.

President Trump has never been shy about promoting his businesses.

Even at a press conference after the racially tinged violence in Charlottesville, Va., he paused for a product placement:

"Charlottesville is a great place that's been very badly hurt over the last couple of days. I own, I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States. It's in Charlottesville."

President Trump's charitable foundation received nearly $2.9 million in contributions in 2016, its latest federal tax filing shows — a million dollars more than it raised in the previous three years combined.

Three donors gave the Donald J. Trump Foundation more than 80 percent of its 2016 contributions. Million-dollar donations came from Las Vegas casino owner Phil Ruffin, a friend of Trump's, and Laura Perlmutter, a Trump family friend and big donor to Republican causes. Ivanka Trump gave $100,000. There's no record of any funds from Trump himself.

The Federal Election Commission is moving to improve disclosure of the money behind Internet and digital ads, as the shadow of Russian-funded social media ads in last year's presidential race hangs over the agency.

"We can't, obviously, take over the role of the Justice Department or of Congress," Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub told other commissioners Thursday, "but I do think that we could do this little piece."

Washington used to operate one scandal at a time.

Not anymore. Here are just some of the scandals currently brewing:

  • The indictment of President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner, Rick Gates, in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of possible ties between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia.

In a legal settlement that still awaits a federal judge's approval, the IRS "expresses its sincere apology" for mistreating a conservative organization called Linchpins of Liberty — along with 40 other conservative groups — in their applications for tax-exempt status.

And in a second case, NorCal Tea Party Patriots and 427 other groups suing the IRS also reached a "substantial financial settlement" with the government.

If there's one thing President Trump's critics want from him, and he refuses to give up, it's his tax returns.

The returns didn't come up during Wednesday's hearing in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan. But the hearing was the first step in a process that could loosen Trump's grip on them.

If the next step goes the plaintiffs' way, the case could make the president's tax returns surface.

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On Wednesday morning, a federal judge in Manhattan will hear preliminary arguments in a case that claims President Trump is violating the Constitution's ban on accepting foreign payments, or emoluments.

Updated at 3:20 p.m. ET

As Democratic pols jettison their old contributions from Harvey Weinstein, the former entertainment executive embroiled in multiple allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, his cash is not likely to leave a big hole in party coffers.

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