The Influence Industry: New Republicans play an old fundraising game


Corporations reported an increase in donations to a charity close to House Speaker John Boehner’s heart. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
April 20, 2011

Many of the Republican freshmen in the House won election vowing to shake up Washington, so it’s a little surprising that many of them seem to be playing an old Washington game: raising much of their campaign money from corporate political action committees.

More than 50 members of the class of 87 GOP freshmen took in more than $50,000 from PACs during the first quarter of 2011, according to new campaign disclosure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Eighteen of the lawmakers took in more than $100,000.

Rep. Steve Stivers (Ohio) accepted the most PAC dollars of any of the new Republican lawmakers, $241,000 in the first quarter, or about 60 percent of the money he raised.

Overall, fundraising among the large GOP freshman class is below the average raised by new Democratic members in the first quarters of 2007 and 2009, after elections when liberals won big gains in Congress. Two years ago, Democratic freshmen raised $287,000 on average, while the figure this year for the new GOP lawmakers was $176,000.

Among the Republican freshmen with big PAC receipts were Reps. Diane Black (Tenn.) with $178,000, Nan A.S. Hayworth (N.Y.) with $170,000 and Kristi L. Noem (S.D.) with $169,000.

Noem scheduled at least 10 Washington fundraisers in the first quarter, according to invitations compiled by the Sunlight Foundation. An e-mail obtained by the foundation included nine events, including a pizza lunch and two dinners asking for a $1,500-$2,000 donation from attendees. A Noem spokesman declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Stivers.

Sixteen freshman members of the House Agriculture Committee held a fundraiser March 14 at the Capitol Hill Club, asking for contributions of $8,000 to $16,000 from PACs. The group of lawmakers raised at least $250,000, according to an FEC report.

Who’s spending what

Spending by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce dropped in the first quarter of the year to $10.9 million, according to a lobbying report filed Wednesday. That compares with more than $100 million last year, including millions of dollars on election ads and lobbying on two huge pieces of legislation on health care and financial regulation. The Chamber spent $25 million in the first quarter of 2010 as the health-care bill was finalized. Chamber officials said the lobbying activity “remained consistent with previous non-election years.”

FedEx cut its lobbying spending dramatically in the first quarter, records show. The shipping company spent $3.9 million in the first three months of the year, compared with $6 million in the fourth quarter of 2010 and $4.9 million a year ago.

The company had been fighting an amendment, pushed by rival UPS and the Teamsters union, to change the way the government treats FedEx employees who are seeking to unionize. The company is currently governed under the Railway Labor Act, a 1926 law intended to limit strikes.

Last year, the Democratic-controlled House passed a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration that would have changed the way FedEx drivers are treated under labor laws. But this year, the House, now under Republican control, passed a bill without that provision.

UPS disclosed $1.6 million in spending, roughly the same as in past years.

The Blackstone Group, a financial services company that runs hedge funds and private-equity partnerships, among other things, reported a 40 percent increase in lobbying spending in the first quarter compared with a year earlier. The company disclosed $1.3 million in spending on the implementation of the new financial regulation law, as well as tax issues. The Obama administration has been trying to raise tax rates for certain types of income from hedge funds and private-equity partnerships.

In honor of the speaker

House Speaker John A. Boehner’s strong attachment to a school voucher program for the District was evident when he choked up during a floor speech last month. That attachment was no surprise to the corporations that have donated for years in honor of Boehner (R-Ohio) to an annual benefit for a charity supporting D.C. Catholic schools.

This month, over objections from some District officials, the speaker pushed a revival of the program into a spending compromise with Democrats. Last year, corporations more than doubled the amount of money they gave to the charity as Boehner prepared to win the speaker’s gavel in the fall elections.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the trade association for drug companies, was the top donor last year, with a $50,000 contribution. Drugmaker Amgen has been a repeat donor, giving $20,000 in 2008 and 2009. Last year, it was even more generous, cutting a $25,000 check.

In total, corporations reported $192,000 in donations to the charity in honor of Boehner in 2010, according to their lobbying disclosure forms. That was up from $72,000 in 2009 and $61,000 in 2008.

“The speaker makes public policy decisions based on what he thinks is best for his constituents and the American people,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steele. “In this case, he supports the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships because they give some of the neediest kids in our nation’s capital a chance at a quality education.”

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