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 Supreme Court on Tuesday insisted that many donations to predominantly conservative political nonprofit groups — what's often called dark money — be disclosed, seven weeks ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

The ruling closes, at least for now, a loophole that has allowed wealthy donors to finance aggressive ads while staying anonymous. Crafted by the Federal Election Commission nearly 40 years ago, the loophole flourished after the 2010 Citizens United ruling.

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Digital advertising is gaining ground as the medium of choice for political candidates. And now campaigns are making ads that don't just beam messages out. They bring money in. It's all about small donors, as NPR's Peter Overby reports.

The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia want the legal authority to get any communications between President Trump and officials of foreign or U.S. state governments pertaining to his Trump International Hotel near the White House.

The proposal is one of several for "document discovery" in the historic civil suit against the president. As plaintiffs, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh can seek documents to bolster their complaints. They made their proposals Friday in a filing in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md.

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John McCain devoted much of his career in the Senate to controlling the influence of money in public life — in part to try to recover from his own role in a big congressional influence scandal.

McCain, who died Saturday of brain cancer, made money and influence big themes of his first presidential race.

Updated at 12:24 p.m. ET

Fox & Friends was the natural venue for President Trump to strike back against Michael Cohen. The former self-described "fixer" for Trump had said under oath, before a federal judge, that he and Trump had violated the campaign finance law together.

The problem was the hush payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal and porn actress Stormy Daniels. During the campaign, each had taken a six-figure payment that kept their claimed affairs with Trump out of the public eye.

California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter and his wife have been indicted on charges of diverting campaign money to pay for personal and family expenses.

Updated at 1:23 p.m. ET

At Tuesday's White House briefing, press secretary Sarah Sanders misleadingly asserted that the Trump administration's use of nondisclosure agreements both during and after government employment was very common.

"Despite contrary opinion, it's actually very normal. And every administration prior to the Trump administration has had NDAs, particularly specific for anyone that had a security clearance." said Sanders.

As a federal appellate judge for the past dozen years, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has played a central role in building the nation's system of campaign finance laws.

Updated at 9:30 p.m. ET

A widely used loophole for funneling secret "dark money" into political ads closed quietly last weekend, as a federal judge concluded it thwarted Congress' intent to have broad disclosure of political money.

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Updated at 5:00 p.m. ET

In a blow to President Trump, a federal judge says a lawsuit that alleges Trump's business interests violate the Constitution can proceed.

Federal District Judge Peter Messitte denied the Department of Justice's request to dismiss a case brought by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia. The Emoluments Clause bars any president from personally profiting from his dealings with foreign governments — or even U.S. state governments.

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As nonprofit advocacy groups plunge into a high-priced fight over confirming Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, they will no longer have to identify their biggest donors to the Internal Revenue Service.

The IRS announced the rules change Monday evening. Earlier that day, Trump railed against special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russia's cryptocurrency-financed effort to disrupt the 2016 presidential race, and the FBI arrested a Russian national who allegedly used the NRA to build ties among conservatives and Republicans.

As the midterm elections get more heated, passionate grassroots donors are opening their wallets to Democrats campaigning against President Trump and the GOP in their quest to take the House.

By the time Scott Pruitt resigned, his conduct as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency had become the subject of 12 to 18 investigations, audits and inquiries. It's hard to know the precise number, as only some of the cases are public, but Pruitt may have set some kind of ethics-in-government record.

Ethics advocates are asking how he stayed long enough to trigger that many probes.

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Scott Pruitt was head of the Environmental Protection Agency for 16 months. And during his short tenure, he became entangled in a number of government ethics rules, which now start to look a little bit ragged. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

President Trump hasn't yet nominated a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, but the fight over confirming that nominee began the day Kennedy gave notice.

When it comes to transparency for political money — who gave, how much, how it was spent — there are three buckets: fully disclosed, partly disclosed and not disclosed at all.

Long-standing law requires candidate campaigns and party committees to report their finances regularly. But among outside groups — political action committees, superPACs and nonprofit groups — nearly half the money spent so far in the midterm elections was either never disclosed or only partially disclosed.

Here's what's going on.

A new trend since 2016

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Updated at 2:19 p.m. ET

The Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution will be rendered meaningless if Democrats in Congress aren't allowed to sue President Trump for violating it, a lawyer for nearly 200 Democratic senators and representatives told a federal judge today.

"There's simply nothing Congress can do to stop the president's actions, no matter who's in control of the body," said Brianne Gorod, chief counsel of the Constitution Accountability Center, representing the Democratic lawmakers.

Updated at 5:30 p.m. ET

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, already battling roughly a dozen ethics investigations, allegedly asked a top aide to obtain a used mattress from President Trump's Washington, D.C., hotel.

Millan Hupp, Pruitt's director of scheduling and advance, told House investigators last month that she couldn't track down the mattress, and didn't know if Pruitt ultimately got one.

A spokeswoman for the Trump International Hotel had no comment on any aspect of the story.

As tech companies and government agencies prepare to defend against possible Russian interference in the midterm elections, the Federal Election Commission has a different response: too soon.

The four commissioners on Thursday deadlocked, again, on proposals to consider new rules, for example, for foreign-influenced U.S. corporations and for politically active entities that don't disclose their donors.

Updated at 5:15 p.m. ET

Emory Rounds III, President Trump's nominee to lead the Office of Government Ethics, got a warm if brief welcome Wednesday from a Senate committee.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., summed up senators' concerns about OGE, which has gone toe-to-toe with the Trump White House several times. Carper asked Rounds, "Are you confident you can maintain independence from this White House, and when necessary hold it accountable?"

Rounds replied, "I certainly intend to do so, yes sir."

Federal prosecutors have gone where the Federal Election Commission can't find its way, charging two Arizona brothers with using bogus political action committees to scam gullible small-dollar donors.

A criminal complaint alleges that William and Robert Tierney raised more than $23 million between 2014 and 2017. It says William Tierney's share was more than $3 million; Robert Tierney's was more than $600,000; the candidates they claimed to be supporting got about $109,000.

Updated at 5:40 p.m. ET

In his annual disclosure of personal finances, President Trump acknowledged that he paid lawyer Michael Cohen between $100,000 and $250,000 last year.

Both Cohen and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani have said some of that money was to reimburse Cohen for a $130,000 hush money settlement with adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who says she had an affair with Trump.

Michael Cohen — variously described as President Trump's lawyer, fixer or, in his words, "pit bull" — has emerged as a would-be Washington influence peddler.

AT&T, Korean Aerospace Industries, a branch of the Swiss drugmaker Novartis and an American company linked to a Russian oligarch all acknowledged they had hired Cohen after Trump's surprise victory in 2016. It appears that between January 2017 and January 2018 about $1.25 million flowed from the four companies into Cohen's Essential Consultants LLC.

As with most Trump-related controversies, it leaves questions.

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