10 ways members gave back after the government shutdown

February 28

Updated 11:12 a.m.

Nearly five months since the government shutdown, a new Washington Post analysis has found that dozens of lawmakers donated more than $494,500 to charity or back to government accounts to help pay down the federal deficit in the weeks after the impasse.

In case you haven't seen it, we've posted detailed information on each donation made by lawmakers who responded to our inquiries. The data is packed with interesting anecdotes about how and to whom members of the House and Senate gave money and gives us a sense of how lawmakers decided to spread their dollars to help buttress themselves from the political fallout of the shutdown. Here are 10 things we thought were worth calling out.

1. Which party was more generous?

Democrats. As of Thursday evening, 62 congressional Democrats had either donated to charity or sent money back to the U.S. Treasury, while 54 Republicans had done the same.


Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). (Richard Rasmussen/AP)

2. How about lawmakers running for higher office?

Several lawmakers looking for political promotions donated, while others didn't reply to our inquiries.

In Georgia, Republican Reps. Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston and Paul Broun are locked in a primary for an open U.S. Senate seat. Gingrey sent back $5,049.76 to the U.S. Treasury, while Broun and Kingston didn't reply to our inquiries. In Arkansas, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who's running against Sen. Mark Pryor (R-Ark.), donated $2,543 each to three groups. (Pryor wasn't on our original list.) Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.) is running for her state's open Senate seat and divided $7,733.33 between seven organizations. Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), a GOP candidate for Senate, donated his shutdown pay to the Big Sky Honor Flight.

Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) is running for Pennsylvania governor and gave $4,875 to several Philadelphia-area charities. And Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who's running for Louisiana governor in 2015, didn't reply to our inquiries.


Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) (Toni Sandys/Post)

3. More Republicans than Democrats didn't respond to our inquiries.

Our original list of lawmakers vowing not to accept their pay included 237 names when it published in October. When we began following up with offices in January, we sent e-mails. We waited a few weeks and sent e-mails again. Many offices eventually responded, but dozens never did.

As of Thursday evening, 85 lawmakers still hadn't responded and most of them -- more than 60 -- were Republicans. Those failing to respond include Reps. Michele Bachman (R-Minn.), Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) -- four members who actively supported shuttering government offices if Congress and the White House couldn't reach a spending deal.

Non-responsive Democrats include Reps. Ken Calvert (D-Calif.) and Susan Davis (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). (UPDATE: We originally said that Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.) and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) hadn't responded, but they got back to us on Friday morning.)

4. Some members gladly touted their donations...

In a press release touting his donations, Rep. Bill Flores (R-Tex.) said he was donating $6,200 to the Fisher House Foundation, "who was willing to step up to take care of our military families when the Obama administration failed our fallen heroes." Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) informed constituents of his donation via Twitter, while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) posted photos on Facebook. Several offices also provided photos and redacted copies of checks.

5. ... while others preferred more discretion.

Three senators -- Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and James Risch (R-Idaho) -- confirmed that they made donations, but declined to disclose the amount or recipients, citing personal or religious reasons.

6. Everyone seemed to calculate donations differently.

The amounts that lawmakers sent back to the U.S. Treasury, for example, varied widely. Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Tex.) sent back $4,531.36, "for the duration of the lapse in appropriations." But Rep. Nikki Tsongas (D-Mass.) parted ways with $5,549.60, an amount described by aides as "her salary during the 16-day government shutdown."

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) donated $5,027, or "16 days’ worth of his salary," to Second Harvest, but Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) donated approximately $7,700, "the salary he received during the government funding lapse."


Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). (Susan Walsh - AP)

7. Some lawmakers are so wealthy they don't accept their paychecks at all.

Lawmakers’ average net worth topped $1 million for the first time ever in 2012, according to a recent analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics. And some of wealthiest members of Congress don't accept a single cent from taxpayers.

As we called around, aides to Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.), John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) as well as Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) reminded us that they are among those that don't accept their paychecks. Issa, who made his millions by starting a car alarm business, sent his earnings to the Issa Family Foundation. Corker, a former construction magnate, has donated all of his Senate earnings since he came to office to the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga.


Veterans march in a parade in St. Louis. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

8. Lawmakers like to give money to organizations helping military veterans.

Members of the House and Senate donated more than $60,000 to veterans groups big and small.  The Wounded Warrior Project received more than $30,700 according to The Post analysis. Local chapters of the Honor Flight Network, which flies military veterans to Washington to visit the national war memorials, received donations from at least five lawmakers. The Fisher House Foundation, which helps house the families of veterans or service members while their loved ones are seeking treatment at military or Veterans Affairs hospitals, received roughly $10,000 from at least four members.

In Pittsburgh, the Veterans Leadership Program received a donation from Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.). Michele Margittai, a spokeswoman for the group, said Rothfus is a long-time supporter. "The money we get goes straight to our veterans that we serve," she said.


Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.). (Felicia Sonmez/Washington Post)

9. Ron Barber likes to spread his money around.

Nobody had a more elaborate giving program than the Arizona Democrat. As the shutdown began, his office announced that he would donate money to three local charities for each day of the shutdown.

Ultimately, he divided up $7,627.20 among 48 separate charities, with each group receiving roughly $158. Beneficiaries included the Fort Huachuca Chaplain’s Food Locker, which provides food assistance to military service members; the Cochise Area Network of Therapeutic Equestrian Resources; and the Emerge! Center Against Domestic Violence also in Tucson.

"We were really grateful that of all the organizations in our community and his district that we were one of those that he would identify as an important place to invest that donation," said Ed Mercurio-Sakwa, CEO of Emerge. He admitted that the donation was likely "a symbolic gesture" and that several of the families his group helps suffered during the shutdown because other social services they rely on saw interruptions in funding held up by the shutdown.


Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).

10. There's a breast cancer awareness group called "Beer for Boobs."

Yes, really. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) donated "about $8,000" to four organizations in her home state. Some of the money went to HERO, a Fargo retail store that collects donations of health-care supplies, while other donations went to groups helping the state's National Guard and military veterans.

But Heitkamp, a survivor of breast cancer, also sent cash to Beer for Boobs, a project organized by McQuade Distributing Company in Bismarck. The company was raising awareness and money for breast cancer.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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