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Companies that received bailout money giving generously to candidates

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By T.W. Farnam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 24, 2010; 10:02 PM

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) was a fierce critic of the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler last year, saying he could not "ask the American taxpayer to subsidize failure."

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But GM doesn't seem to hold a grudge.

The political action committee formed by the company, which is now largely owned by taxpayers, cut McConnell a $5,000 campaign check in September, a small piece of the $190,000 it donated to campaigns in the past month.

Although GM suspended its contributions while it solicited the government for financial help, it is now back in the game of political giving, increasing donations from its federal PAC steadily over the past few months.

It is not alone: Companies that received federal bailout money, including some that still owe money to the government, are giving to political candidates with vigor. Among companies with PACs, the 23 that received $1 billion or more in federal money through the Troubled Assets Relief Program gave a total of $1.4 million to candidates in September, up from $466,000 the month before.

Most of those donations are going to Republican candidates, although the TARP program was approved primarily with Democratic support. President Obama expanded it to cover GM and other automakers.

Greg Martin, a GM spokesman, said that the company's PAC donations come from voluntary contributions from its employees. "We contribute to candidates who thoughtfully approach issues that are important to the auto industry and manufacturing," he said. "If you look at our giving, we have given equally to both parties' leadership."

Some of the generosity to Republicans can be explained by the expectation that the party will make huge gains in Congress. But another factor is the Democratic Party's push for financial-regulation legislation this year. The new law, which passed the Senate with the votes of three Republicans and all but one Democrat, placed new curbs on banks and introduced a regulator to vet financial products for consumers. Most Republicans, and banks, say the law creates too many new restrictions.

Scott Talbott, a lobbyist with the Financial Services Roundtable, said another factor could be the tone some Democrats used against financial firms. At one point, Obama called Wall Street executives "fat cats."

"The entire industry was painted with a broad brush, and there was dissatisfaction with that," Talbott said.

Democrats have been abandoned by individual Wall Street donors as well as corporate PACs, leaving the party without an important source of funding as it fends off aggressive Republican challengers.

The bailouts have become campaign fodder for Republicans to use against their Democratic rivals. In a television commercial, former Republican senator Dan Coats pillories his opponent in the Indiana Senate race, Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D), for supporting "the Obama-Reid-Pelosi agenda," including "the disastrous bank bailout."


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