New congressional ethics rules are showing the public for the first time how much money lobbyists and companies are donating to charities and nonprofits to woo lawmakers, the New York Times reports. Companies and interest groups donated more than $13 million to such groups associated with more than 200 House and Senate members. “It’s a very personal way to curry favor with powerful lawmakers,” one watchdog said.
“It’s also a lobbying tactic that is not completely understood or even known by the public,” says the watchdog. Congressional rules, which don’t cap donations, require members to disclose charitable gifts made in their names, but the practice remains controversial. Donors—including companies like Wal-Mart, Boeing, and Pfizer—say the gifts often support worthy causes like scholarships, renewable energy, and diabetes research.