Tea party candidates have a benefactor in business-funded Boehner

House Republicans released their "Pledge to America" on Thurs., Sept. 23. The release of the 21-page plan came with far less fanfare than the 1994 announcement of the party's "Contract with America."
By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 22, 2010; 12:42 AM

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner has long had a knack for raising campaign money from Wall Street firms and blue-chip corporations - and he typically spreads it among rank-and-file House Republicans to bolster loyalty.

But this year, Boehner has broadened his strategy as he tries to position himself as the next House speaker. He has transferred more than $320,000 of his business-funded war chest to 39 avowedly anti-establishment candidates who have been endorsed by elements of the tea party.

The donations to tea party hopefuls from Oregon to Alabama show more than the Republican Party's broad embrace of insurgents in a year when Democrats are on the defensive. Boehner's contributions - in some cases made before the tea party candidates became official GOP choices - also appear to reflect his pragmatic desire to promote connections with a new crop of impassioned conservatives, some of whom could hold the keys to a Republican takeover of the House.

It's a relatively new political tack for the former plastics and packaging salesman from Ohio, who has exceeded all other House members in collections from Wall Street - with more than $2.9 million - and also ranks at or near the top of members favored by large health insurers, oil firms, student lenders, drug manufacturers, and food and beverage companies, according to tallies of campaign disclosures.

Some of the tea party candidates who have won his financial backing have built their campaigns on disdain for special interests and their influence over elected officials in Washington. Although some could never hope to attract the kind of corporate-directed cash that Boehner routinely takes in, the transfers from his leadership PAC and personal campaign committee have accelerated their campaigns and given a stamp of approval to their candidacies.

Don Seymour, Boehner's campaign spokesman, said the congressman "is doing everything possible to support all of our Republican candidates - whether it's contributing directly to their campaigns, raising money for the party, or simply meeting with and listening to voters."

One tea-party-backed candidate to get Boehner's help is Steve Stivers, a former state legislator and lobbyist for Ohio's Bank One who has accused his Democratic opponent of supporting "taxpayer-funded bonuses given to failed Wall Street executives." Stivers's spokesman, John Damschroder, said he thinks the $14,000 was given - mostly before the state primary election - because "speaker-to-be Boehner knows how critical Ohio is to control of the House."

Boehner also has given $14,000 to Ohio candidate James Renacci, a former mayor, car dealer and nursing home operator who has attacked his Democratic opponent for having "lobbyist friends" and for attracting support from "special interests." Renacci spokesman James Slepian called the money "a vote of confidence" and a reflection of the importance that Boehner attaches to the race as a step toward Republican control of the House.

"I don't know the extent of John Boehner's relationships with lobbyists, but they certainly haven't been a factor in this race," Slepian said.

Another tea-party-backed candidate to receive help from the minority leader is Tim Burns, a former pharmaceutical software entrepreneur who is vying for the seat in Pennsylvania once held by the late John P. Murtha (D). Burns has campaigned hard against Washington and has publicly dismissed his opponent, who was a congressional district manager for Murtha, as a Washington insider.

Jake Parsons, Burns's spokesman, said the $19,000 Burns received from Boehner - some of it before the state primary - as well as money from other Republican leaders have "been critical to helping get Tim's message of 'fixing Washington' out."

South Carolina candidate Tim Scott, an insurance agent and conservative former state legislator who has promised that he would "bring common sense back to Washington," is one of 13 Republicans endorsed by the tea party group FreedomWorks to receive at least $20,000 from the leadership committees and personal campaign committees run by Boehner and Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

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