"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Who Bankrolls the U.S. Congress? The Big Money Behind Top Lawmakers

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2010 at 10:58 am

Oldspeak: “The Elephant in the room. “We The People” pretty much went in the shitter when Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission was decided. Tantamount to separation of church and state, there should be separation of Monetary Influence Peddlers and Lawmakers.  Lawmakers ought not be influenced by only the monied interests and ‘corporate citizens’ with bottomless pockets who pay to play; but by those who elected them, their constituents.

From Josh Israel and Aaron Mehta @ The Center For Public Integrity:

California Assembly Speaker Jesse M. Unruh once famously said of moneyed political interests: “If you can’t take their money, drink their booze, eat their food, screw their women, and vote against them, you don’t belong here.” In other words, giving cash to politicians is no guarantee they’ll carry your water. But campaign contributions to elected officials don’t hurt either. The links between money and votes is an endlessly debated subject in official Washington. Cynics say campaign cash often buys support. Others claim that examining who opened their wallets most for a politician is simply an indication of who those backers think best advocates their agenda. Either way, though, following the money is often illuminating.

As the 2010 midterm elections approach, the Center for Public Integrity sought to determine who bankrolls Washington’s most powerful lawmakers and why — not just recently, but over the entire course of their federal careers. We looked hard at the big money behind the four top congressional leaders: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Through analysis of three decades worth of CQ MoneyLine records on contributions to all of their campaign committees and leadership PACs, we calculated the ten top PAC donors and five top individual contributors to each of the leadership quartet. Where companies and associations had merged, we combined all PACs affiliated with parts of the current entities. We combed through lobbying disclosure forms, press releases, news stories, and voting records to see whether the legislators vigorously backed the agendas of their top patrons. The answer: a definite yes.

Senate Majority Leader

Harry Reid: In the Clearing Stands A Boxer

A former professional gambler, a taxi company magnate, a telecommunications lobbyist, and a giant tobacco company are among the top lifetime givers to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, 70, of Nevada, who faces the toughest re-election race of his political career.

Those are the results of the Center for Public Integrity’s review of CQMoneyLine information on Reid’s contribution history for campaign accounts and leadership PACs, dating back to his first successful congressional campaign in 1982. The Center’s inquiry marks the first in a series of stories on the top donors to Congressional leadership. Future articles will analyze the fundraising records of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader John Boehner.

In Nevada’s rough-and-tumble politics, Reid’s top backers include a heavy dose of the Nevada business community, especially in the casino and land development areas, and the telecommunications industry. Those business interests are balanced by sizeable support from organized labor and trial lawyers.

That 1982 campaign for the House cost Reid just over $500,000. How times have changed. With a hotly contested re-election battle on the horizon this November, Reid’s campaign committee spent more than eight times that amount in 2009 alone.

All told, Reid has raised more than $42 million over nearly three decades, including more than $6.5 million for the federal version of his leadership PAC, the Searchlight Leadership Fund. Representing a swing state like Nevada — in four of the last five presidential elections the state has been won by a margin of less than four points — Reid has needed almost every penny. The former middleweight boxer is currently in the political fight of his life, trailing in virtually every public poll when matched up against his likely November opponents.

But he has also earned the appreciation of his Senate Democratic caucus colleagues by spreading his wealth around; he has helped ensure their loyalty and a majority by giving contributions from the Searchlight Leadership Fund or his campaign account to all but one of his 56 caucus colleagues with past or current Senate campaigns. Indeed, the only candidate not to receive a contribution from Reid was millionaire Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, who almost entirely self-funds his campaigns.

Of Reid’s $42 million-plus in fundraising, more than $25 million came from individuals. His top five individual donors combined for more than $154,000, or 0.7 percent of Reid’s total all-time contributions from individuals.

More than $14 million of Reid’s overall fundraising came from political committees. Nearly $1 million of that came from just these ten donors, or almost 7 percent of his all-time total

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid, declined to comment for this story, beyond his statement on Krone’s behalf.

[Correction 6/16/10:  An earlier version of this story erroneously listed the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWE), an affiliate of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, as the eighth largest career PAC contributor to Senator Reid. The error occurred as a result of FEC filings by a Teamsters PAC that listed the BMWE as the PAC’s affiliated committee. Those contributions should have been attributed generally to the Teamsters, making them the third largest career contributor. A spokesman for the Teamsters confirmed to the Center that the Teamsters and their affiliate union PACs should be considered as a single entity. We regret the confusion.]

Top 10 Political Action Committee Donors

  1. AT&T Inc.
  2. Laborers’ International
  3. International Brotherhood of Teamsters
  4. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
  5. American Bankers Association
  6. MGM Mirage
  7. Altria Group Inc.
  8. Harrah’s Entertainment Inc.
  9. International Association of Machinists
  10. American Association for Justice

Top 5 Individual Donors

  1. David B. Krone
  2. Rita M. Lewis
  3. Phyllis Frias
  4. William T. Walters
  5. Fatih Ozmen $27,000 Click here to read more
Senate Minority Leader

Mitch McConnell: Fueled by Tobacco and Whiskey

Tobacco and whiskey have helped build Mitch McConnell’s political career. Tobacco giants Altria Group Inc. and Reynolds American Inc. are two of Mitch McConnell’s top five career campaign PAC contributors. And three of the Senate Republican leader’s top five individual donors have ties to the Kentucky-based maker of Jack Daniel’s whiskey.

Those are among the results of the Center for Public Integrity’s review of CQMoneyLine information on McConnell’s contribution history for both campaign accounts and leadership PACs, dating back to before his first Senate campaign in 1984. The Center’s probe of McConnell’s finances marks the second in a series of pieces on top donors to Congressional leaders.

Addison Mitchell “Mitch” McConnell, 68, a former Congressional aide and Department of Justice staffer, was elected Jefferson County, Kentucky judge-executive in 1977 and again in 1981. In 1984, McConnell narrowly defeated Democratic incumbent Walter Huddleston to win a U.S. Senate seat by just a few thousand votes. McConnell won in 1990, 1996, and 2008 by narrow margins, garnering at most 55 percent of the vote; his 2002 victory was far more comfortable. Those close races required a lot of money, and McConnell has risen to the challenge, amassing more than $47 million for his campaign committees over his career. In 1989 he established the Bluegrass Committee, a leadership PAC through which he began distributing contributions to fellow Senate Republicans and potential candidates. The PAC has distributed money to 36 of McConnell’s 40 current GOP colleagues. It’s paid off — in 2003, McConnell became the Senate Republican Whip and in 2007, his party made him Senate Minority Leader.

McConnell has strong ties to the tobacco industry and has received more money from tobacco interests than any member of Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s hardly a surprise, though, as Kentucky is the nation’s second-largest tobacco producer, and is tops in the production of burley tobacco, an air-dried variety used to make cigarettes.

He is also known for his opposition to campaign finance restrictions, such as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. After the legislation was enacted over his filibuster attempts, McConnell sued to overturn the law, but the U.S. Supreme Court eventually upheld most of the bill’s provisions. His wife, Elaine Chao, served as secretary of labor for eight years under President George W. Bush.

Of the more than $47.5 million McConnell has raised, nearly $27.5 million comes from individuals. At least $251,700 or about one percent of his grand total comes from his five top donors. The top ten PACs combined to give McConnell at least $1,049,341, more than eight percent of his overall total.

Sen. McConnell’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Top 10 Political Action Committee Donors

  1. AT&T Inc.
  2. Altria Group
  3. JPMorgan Chase & Co.
  4. Reynolds American Inc.
  5. American Bankers Association
  6. Bank of America
  7. United Parcel Service Inc.
  8. Union Pacific Corp.
  9. Ashland Inc.
  10. National Association of Realtors

Top 5 Individual Donors

  1. William M. Street
  2. J.D. Nichols
  3. James A. Patterson
  4. Jean Frazier
  5. Owsley Brown Frazier

    Speaker of the House

    Backing Nancy Pelosi: A Labor of Love

    Who has funded the ascent of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi? A prominent trial lawyer, his graphic-designer wife, a healing-touch practitioner whose grandfather founded IBM, a land developer, and a savings and loan magnate comprise the top five individual donors throughout Pelosi’s career, while eight labor unions, the National Association of Realtors, and JPMorgan Chase lead all political action committee contributors to the California Democrat.

    The rankings emerged from the Center for Public Integrity’s examination ofCQ MoneyLine data on Pelosi’s contribution records for both campaign accounts and leadership PACs, stretching back to her initial federal race in 1987. The Center’s probe of Pelosi’s finances marks the fourth in a series of pieces on top donors to congressional leaders.

    When Pelosi won a June 1987 special election to represent California’s Fifth (now Eighth) Congressional District, her campaign cost about $1 million. The daughter and sister of former Baltimore mayors only narrowly won her primary (35 percent to 31 percent) but easily won the general election with roughly 63 percent of the vote. In 11 elections since, her San Francisco-based district re-elected her with at least 70 percent every time. With little electoral opposition, Pelosi didn’t ramp up her fundraising again until 1999, when she began a campaign for Congressional leadership and established PAC to the Future, a leadership political action committee. It distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to her Democratic colleagues, and they elected her Democratic whip in 2001, minority leader in 2002, and the first female speaker of the House in 2007.

    Pelosi’s strong financing backing from labor unions corresponds closely with her fiercely pro-labor voting record. The AFL-CIO’s scorecards indicate 100 percent support from Pelosi for their legislative priorities in 2008 and 2009, and (as of the end of 2008) a 95 percent lifetime score for the speaker.

    Dating back to the dawn of her House career, Pelosi “seemed likely to develop a prominent role in Congress, and it made sense for unions to demonstrate early and continuing support,” said Congressional expert Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institution. And it paid off — one labor union leader told the Center, “Anything that’s benefited working families, she’s supported.” Congressional scholar David Karol of the University of California, Berkeley, also noted that Pelosi was mentored by lawmakers with close ties to labor, including her predecessors in the seat, Phil and Sala Burton.

    Not surprisingly, labor ties have not always endeared her to the business community. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce gives Pelosi just a 26 percent lifetime score. And Patrick Semmens, spokesman for National Right to Work (which fights against “compulsory unionism”), told the Center that “Congresswoman Pelosi has repeatedly put union boss power grabs ahead of the rights of individual employees and the well-being of the economy. Those giveaways are worth billions to Big Labor, so it’s hardly surprising to see that union officials are her most reliable contributors.”

    Of the nearly $20 million Pelosi has raised for her committees since 1987, more than $10.4 million came from individuals and more than $8.8 million came from other political committees. In all, the top ten institutional supporters kicked in at least $1.2 million of Pelosi’s funds, nearly 14 percent of her all-time PAC total. The top five individuals alone contributed more than $240,000 to Pelosi’s committees, about 2.3 percent of her overall individual total.

    Jennifer Crider, political director for Pelosi, explained the contributions by noting: “Many Americans have supported Speaker Pelosi’s leadership, share her vision for the country, and her focus on the issues most important to Americans: the education of our children, the health of their families, and the security of our communities.”

    Top 10 Political Action Committee Donors

    1. International Brotherhood of Teamsters
    2. AFSCME
    3. National Association of Realtors
    4. National Education Association
    5. UAW
    6. Laborers’ International
    7. Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association
    8. JPMorgan Chase
    9. International Association of Machinists
    10. Air Line Pilots Association

    Top 5 Individual Donors

    1. John W. Keker
    2. Christina Day Keker
    3. Bernard A. Osher
    4. Lucinda B. Watson

    5. Alexander R. Mehran

    House Minority Leader

    John Boehner: A Pro-Business Agenda

    Long before Congressman John Boehner of Ohio rose to his current position as House Republican Leader, he created the “Thursday Group” — a weekly discussion around a U.S. Capitol conference room table with conservative and business lobbyists, including representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other influential trade associations. In Washington, those sorts of relationships often pay dividends. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Boehner’s top career donors include a lobbyist-turned-tobacco executive, two former CEOs of an insurance company, the head of a coal company, and a former telecommunications lobbyist, as well as corporate political action committees for two tobacco behemoths, two shipping companies, and four financial services firms and associations.

    Those are the results of the Center for Public Integrity’s review of CQMoneyline information on Boehner’s contribution history for both campaign accounts and leadership PACs, dating back to his first federal race two decades ago. The Center’s probe of Boehner’s finances marks the third in a series of pieces on top donors to Congressional leaders.

    Boehner, 60, whose district is in southwestern Ohio, began his career working in the packaging and plastics industry. After two years on the Union Township Board of Trustees and six in the Ohio House of Representatives, Boehner made his first bid for federal office in 1990. Though he raised and spent less than $750,000, he defeated the scandal-plagued incumbent Republican in a primary and easily won the Ohio’s 8th Congressional District seat in the general election. He has won more than 60 percent of the vote in his heavily Republican district in every election since.

    Following the 1994 Republican takeover in the House of Representatives, Boehner became chairman of the Republican Conference — the number four position in the leadership — but after the 1998 elections, he lost the post. The Ohio Republican remained active in Congress and in 2006 returned to the leadership, elected by his party to be Republican Majority Leader. Since his party lost its majority following the November 2006 elections, Boehner has served as House Minority Leader.

    Boehner ran for his leadership post on a platform of lobbyist reform, telling Fox News Channel: “I’ve got a long record of … reforming Congress, and I think we need more reforms to make sure that there’s transparency in the relationship between those who lobby us and members themselves.” But much of his campaign funding continues to come from lobbyists. Boehner’s Freedom Project leadership PAC has distributed millions of dollars — mostly raised from other PACs — to Republican Congressional candidates.  Between his PAC and campaign committee, Boehner has taken in more than $30 million in campaign cash. His close ties with lobbyists, however, have turned off even the occasional House Republican — then-Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut opposed Boehner’s leadership bid in 2006, noting “The problem John faces is that he’s so close to K Street.”

    Boehner’s career has been marked by aggressive support of business interests. He has backed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s position 93 percent of the time through his Congressional career. The AFL-CIO says he voted against their interests on every vote he cast in 2008 and 2009, and, as of 2008, backed the labor coalition just 5 percent of the time over his career. Boehner authored the 2006 Pension Protection Act, which expanded tax breaks for those who invest in retirement savings plans, and was also behind the law that implemented the U.S. free trade agreement with Oman. He has been a strong opponent of anti-tobacco legislation as well. While Ohio has no tobacco manufacturing facilities, the most recent data available showed the Buckeye State was home to 475 tobacco farms in 2007, though the total has declined dramatically in recent years. Boehner has also reliably opposed the Obama administration — on the stimulus package, health care reform, Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorization, and financial regulation. One hundred days into Obama’s administration, Boehner said the Democratic legislative agenda made him “want to throw up.”

    Boehner’s top five individual contributors combined to provide at least $263,900, or just over two percent of his individual grand total. The top ten PAC supporters kicked in at least $1.77 million, nearly eleven percent of his all-time PAC total.

    When reached for a comment, Don Seymour, a spokesman for Boehner, said “Mr. Boehner has been blessed with generous supporters who share his vision of freedom, reform, and a smaller, more accountable government, and who know he’s a principled public servant who always does what’s right for his constituents and our country.”

    Top 10 Political Action Committee Donors

    1. AT&T Inc.
    2. CME Group
    3. Bank of America Corp.
    4. Altria Group Inc.
    5. United Parcel Service Inc.
    6. Reynolds American Inc.
    7. JPMorgan Chase & Co.
    8. American Maritime Officers
    9. FedEx Corp.
    10. Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association

    Top 5 Individual Donors

    1. Bruce A. Gates
    2. John J. Schiff Jr.
    3. Wayne M. Boich
    4. Michael Boland
    5. Robert B. Morgan

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