The Influence Industry

GM donates $41,000 to lawmakers' pet projects

GM's return to the business of donations was small compared with the giving of some firms.
GM's return to the business of donations was small compared with the giving of some firms. (Paul Sancya/associated Press)
By T.W. Farnam
Thursday, August 5, 2010

When General Motors went through bankruptcy last year, it suspended its political donations. Now that it's owned by the U.S. government, it's donating to lawmakers' pet projects again.

The carmaker gave $41,000 to groups associated with lawmakers, the vast majority of it -- $36,000 -- to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the company reported on a disclosure form last week. The CBC Foundation is a charity with 11 members of the Congressional Black Caucus on its board.

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"We've always given to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation as far back as anyone can remember," said Greg Martin, GM spokesman. "Our commitment remains unabated, and we continue to be a proud supporter of their work to advance economic development in communities throughout the U.S."

According to its disclosure forms, the company did not give any money to honor lawmakers in 2009, the year of its bankruptcy filing. The U.S. government now has a 60 percent stake in the reformed company.

"By anyone's definition that was an extraordinary time for the company," Martin said. "We did suspend giving for that particular time."

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GM's return to the business of donations remained small compared with the giving of some corporations. Overall, corporations and other entities that were registered to lobby Congress gave $10.7 million to honor politicians and military figures in the first six months of the year. That is down slightly from the $10.8 million spent in the last half of 2009. Donations were down 27 percent from the same period two years ago, but there were still 37 entities that gave at least six figures in the latest six-month period.

Defense contractors disclosed some of the biggest gifts. One of the top honorees was Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who was a guest at an April gala for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a nonprofit group that provides counseling to friends and family who have lost loved ones in the military. BAE Systems donated $150,000 to the event, and defense contractor Science Applications International Corporation donated $100,000, according to disclosure forms. General Motors also gave $5,000 to honor Skelton.

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General Motors has not reactivated its political action committee, which can give to election campaigns, according to the latest reports with the Federal Election Commission. The PAC contributions come from senior employees who give to support the company's political goals.

The CBC Foundation and affiliated entities took a big hit, raising $686,000 from January through June, compared with $1.4 million in the last half of 2009. Anheuser-Busch gave the largest contribution to the foundation this year, $150,000 in March.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute raised about $1 million from companies in the six-month period, including $385,000 in two contributions from Wal-Mart.

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, was honored at a gala for the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor with a $250,000 donation from FedEx and $100,000 from Northrop Grumman. Science Applications International Corp. is also listed as a "presenting sponsor" on the museum's Web site but reported no contributions to the event. A spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.

Lockheed Martin donated $85,000 to the Dallas Military Ball, where Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, was a keynote speaker.

The drug industry was another big spender. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America gave $95,000, including $60,000 to the ALS Foundation to honor Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.). Pfizer spent $103,000, including a $25,000 contribution to honor Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) at the National Osteoporosis Foundation awards dinner.

AT&T disclosed giving $1 million to the George W. Bush Foundation, which is raising money for Bush's presidential library.

The Distilled Spirits Council spent $10,529 for a February reception on the first floor of the Capitol with the Congressional Bourbon Caucus, founded by Reps. John Yarmouth (D) and Brett Guthrie (R) of Kentucky.

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