GE Brings Good Things to Congress: Money!
By Dwight L. Morris
It's hard to find a piece of legislation General Electric does not have a stake in.
GE cannot afford to be a silent bystander in politics. And it has been anything but silent, in the campaign contributions.
Since January 1989, GE's political action committee (PAC) and the company's corporate executives have pumped $2,054,199 into the coffers of 734 House, Senate and presidential candidates.
So-called soft-money contributions, which can be used for such party-building exercises as voter registration but cannot be used to support particular candidates, have amounted to $381,252 since 1992 the first year such contributions were made public.
In the House, GE has been most aggressive in protecting its defense interests, passing out checks totaling $335,205 since 1989 to members of the National Security Committee (formally known as Armed Services) and the National Security Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.
Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), the former chairman and current ranking minority member of the defense subcommittee, has pulled in $18,400 from GE over the past seven years. Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Texas), currently the third-ranking Democrat on the defense subcommittee, has received $15,300. Out of power throughout much of his House career but now anxious to catch up, current defense subcommittee chairman C. W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) has received $9,250 over the past four election cycles.
House members fortunate enough to sit on either the Commerce Committee which is responsible for crafting federal policy on trade, energy and power generation, health care, environmental protection, and telecommunications or on the Appropriations subcommittees dealing with commerce and energy have collected checks totaling $217,650 from GE's executives and its PAC over the past seven years.
Former Commerce and Energy chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) has received $10,000 since 1979, including $2,000 since assuming his role as the committee's ranking minority member. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), a strong advocate of increased competition in the cable television market, has collected $9,350.
GE's money train has made regular stops at the Senate gallery, as well.
While he was in office less than four years, former Senator Harris Wofford (D-Pa.) collected $13,900 from GE's executives and its PAC $6,000 for his special election victory in 1991 and $7,900 for his losing reelection battle in 1994.
During his brief four-year stay in Washington, Wofford sat on the Foreign Relations Committee which oversees international economic policy and trade and the Environmental and Public Works Committee. His views on health care helped shape the debate within the Democratic party during much of 1993.
Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has pulled in $13,012. With a seat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee between 1990 and 1994 and his current seat on Senate Armed Services Committee, Charles S. Robb's (D-VA.) attracted contributions totaling $12,000.
Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) turned his seats on the defense appropriations subcommittee and the Commerce, Science and Transportation committees into $11,500. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), a member of the defense appropriations subcommittee and the ranking minority member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee collected $11,000.
As these numbers suggest, GE's average contribution is far below the $10,000 maximum. Like most corporate players, the company seems to contribute just enough to initiate a conversation.
Of the 536 House candidates receiving at least one GE contribution during the past seven years, 317 collected less than $2,000, including 147 who received $500 or less. Only two candidates Murtha and former Rep. Nicholas Mavroules (D-Ma.) received $9,800 or more in a single election cycle (both in 1992).
As the political winds shifted at the end of 1994, so did GE's pattern of giving.
In 1994 Democrats received 61 percent of the $631,869 GE distributed to candidates the identical proportion Democratic candidates received from GE's $410,844 pool in 1990. However, in 1995, Republicans received 64 percent of the $250,061 GE dispensed to House and Senate incumbents and special election candidates in California and Illinois.
This article originally appeared on the ElectionLine Web site.
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