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.

If you thought the presidential primaries were extraordinarily negative, now there's statistical evidence that you were right.

A new analysis of TV ads finds that 70 percent of the messages were negative — a trend spearheaded by the heavily financed superPACs supporting the candidates. At this point in the 2008 election, 91 percent of TV ads were positive.

Newt Gingrich is officially out of the presidential race. The former House speaker said Wednesday that he's suspending his campaign, and he's ready to help the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, battle President Obama. But Gingrich might have a more pressing problem: His campaign has about $4 million in debt.

In Gingrich's exit speech, he opened by thanking people — first his family, then his financial backers.

"I also want to single out, first of all, the over 179,000 donors who helped us at and who helped make the campaign possible," he said.

Every presidential nominee going back to 2000 has revealed the names of influential supporters known as "bundlers" because of the way they persuade others to give money to a candidate. Every nominee, that is, until Mitt Romney.

The most anyone can give directly to any presidential campaign is $5,000, and everyone who gives that much is listed in the Romney campaign's monthly disclosures.

When it comes to the bundlers, though, the campaign chooses to keep those names secret.

Voluntary Disclosure

The White House has been fielding questions lately about President Obama's travel — what's official, what's political and whether taxpayers are getting stuck with the bill. It's the same issue that rolls around every time a president runs for re-election.

Take President Obama's trip to Florida earlier this month. It featured an official presidential speech on the economy at Florida Atlantic University. On the same trip, the president hit two fundraisers.

How do you sort that out?

The latest financial numbers are coming out Friday from the campaigns of President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney — along with the superPACs that love them.

First, the easy numbers: $53 million was raised in March to re-elect Obama and $12.6 million was raised by the Romney campaign to win the Republican primaries.

But those easy numbers don't give a complete picture.

Yum Brands, the company that owns Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, says it's the latest corporation to break ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council — a group that brings state lawmakers and corporate lobbyists together to write legislation.

Liberal groups are pressuring corporations to abandon ALEC, and a dozen companies have now dropped out.

This week, ALEC did some damage control. It said it is shutting down its task force on public safety and elections, which wrote controversial measures on voter ID, "stand your ground" and immigration reform.

Two of America's best-known companies, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, have dropped their memberships in the American Legislative Exchange Council, a low-profile conservative organization behind the national proliferation of "stand your ground" gun laws.

As Mitt Romney decisively won the Illinois Republican presidential primary Tuesday night, financial reports filed at the Federal Election Commission showed that Romney and a superPAC supporting him yet again spent more than all of his GOP opponents combined.

The reports cover the month of February, which started with Romney's win in Nevada and ended with contests in Michigan and Arizona, which the former Massachusetts governor also won.

In between, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum took three smaller states.

One of the defining elements of the 2012 presidential campaign is money. Not that the candidates themselves have raised all that much; except for President Obama, they haven't. But two dozen wealthy Americans have put in at least $1 million each.

Mostly, they're a mix of Wall Street financiers and entrepreneurs. One of the biggest donors is Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate who is worth about $25 billion.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's six primary wins on Super Tuesday didn't come cheap. An NPR analysis shows that last week alone, the Romney campaign and the pro-Romney superPAC combined spent nearly $7 million on TV ads.

Less than $1 million of that was spent by Romney's official campaign, while the pro-Romney superPAC Restore Our Future — which has almost exclusively engaged in negative advertising this year — spent $5.7 million.

That's compared to $220,000 spent on ads last week by the superPAC supporting former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

It's Super Tuesday for the Republican presidential contenders, and 10 states are holding primaries and caucuses.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney hopes he can firm up his front-runner status — a status that, an NPR analysis shows, has so far involved his campaign and a pro-Romney superPAC burying the opposition with negative messages.

The financial battle for the Republican nomination is tightening. Candidates spent a lot of cash in January — what with contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. Also spending a lot of money, as it turns out, were the richly financed superPACS that support the candidates.

Reports filed at the Federal Election Commission on Monday night show just how important a superPAC can be.

President Obama's decision to have White House officials and Cabinet secretaries help raise money for a pro-Obama superPAC is raising questions.

The superPAC, Priorities USA Action — which is supposed to be independent of the president's re-election campaign — is launching a new effort to bring in six- and seven-figure contributions.

By law, it cannot coordinate its messaging with Obama's re-election campaign committee. But coordinating other things? That's possible.

As some superPACS throw millions of dollars into the Republican primaries, others, such as American Crossroads, are quietly preparing for the day after the primaries end.

As a candidate and as president, Barack Obama has disparaged the role of big money in politics. At his 2010 State of the Union address, he even called out the Supreme Court for a ruling that opened the door to unlimited personal and business contributions. But, faced with a Republican opposition that's raising millions from a handful of sources, President Obama let his fundraisers loose to play the game too.

As the Republican candidates were rallying their supporters in Florida on Tuesday night, their campaigns were quietly sending disclosure reports to the Federal Election Commission in Washington. The big picture: Mitt Romney had more money than Newt Gingrich. President Obama had more than either of them. And a few of the new superPACs filed donor lists filled with high rollers.

Tuesday's disclosures run only through Dec. 31 but still reveal some essential truths.

In the race for the Republican presidential nomination, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich continues to fend off accusations that he should wear the scarlet "L" — for "lobbyist." This week, he released two of his consulting contracts and said they didn't call for any lobbying.

Like many other former lawmakers, Gingrich was advocating for paying clients, while not officially registering as a lobbyist.

The two contracts disclosed this week came from Gingrich's work for Freddie Mac, the mortgage giant. Between 1999 and 2007, Freddie Mac paid his firm $1.6 million.

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.

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.