How Big Business Influences The Super Committee Members

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Published October 03, 2011

| 24/7 Wall St.

“All politics is local”–Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill, Jr., Speaker of the House, 1977 to 1987

Twelve members of Congress have been tasked with producing legislation to cut up to $1.5 trillion out of the federal budget over the next decade. Like all politicians who rely on donations from their constituency, the twelve are beholden to local interests. These interests can influence the impartiality of their decisions if they put local interests ahead of national ones. 24/7 Wall St. has reviewed the members’ voting records, the bills they introduced and the contributions they received to see how their legislative actions correlate with the interests of their top monetary contributors.

Each member of the so-called “super committee” gets a large portion of his or her campaign contributions from a relatively small number of donors, mostly corporations. Representatives and Senators may well have only national interest in mind when they vote. But it is also likely that the interests of their contributors sway their voting decisions on occasion. If so, the super committee’s deliberations will almost certainly be driven not only by the members’ desire to act in the best interests of the United States but also by their desire to raise money for reelection.

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Using legislation data from OpenCongress and campaign contribution data from the Center for Responsive Politics, we looked at whether companies that contributed to the members’ electoral campaigns also benefited from the legislation they passed or proposed. We found that the amount of the contributions and acts on behalf of these contributors were often apparently aligned. Jeb Hensarling , the co-chairperson of the super committee, has recently received large donations from First State Bank, The American Bankers Association, and Bank of America. In 2010, Hensarling has come out against several strict bank regulations. Most other members of the committee have similar ties between contributors and legislation favorable to the donors.

The public and the media’s general perception of the super committee is that its Republican members will reject tax increases while its Democrat ones will seek to protect social programs. The situation is more nuanced than that. Each of the 12 members has priorities in his or her own district and among contributors whose interests are narrow and may not relate to actions to balance the nation’s budget at all.

Patty Murray (D-WA)
> Major contributors: Microsoft Corp, Weyerhaeuser Co, Amazon.com
> Years served: 19
> Votes with party: 90.6%

Patty Murray is one of the super committee’s two co-chairpersons. Two of her largest contributors from the most recent election cycle were pulp and paper company Weyerhaeuser Co., and online retailer Amazon.com. These companies donated approximately $48,500 and $45,000, respectively. Murray is the sponsor of the Community Forestry Conservation Act of 2011, which is intended to benefit natural resource businesses, such as those that deal in timber. She has also voted in favor of an Internet tax moratorium, which would directly benefit Internet-based companies by promoting Internet access, e-commerce, and bandwidth innovation. This could also benefit technology companies like Microsoft — another one of Murray’s large contributors.

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Max Baucus (D-MT)
> Major contributors: Schering-Plough Corp, Goldman Sachs, Amgen Inc
> Years served: 33
> Votes with party: 87.8%

Max Baucus received $87,100 in contributions from oil companies during the 2007-09 session of congress. Since 1999, he has received almost $230,000 from the oil industry. The Senator has voted in favor of big oil companies 67% of the time on major oil-related issues, according to OpenCongress. Baucus has been a proponent of expanding the biotechnology industry, especially in Montana, where he is pushing to locate “a major biotech manufacturing facility.” Amgen and Schering-Plough, which has been acquired by Merck & Co in 2009, are both major contributors to the Senator.

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John Kerry (D-MA)
> Major contributors: Bain Capital, Beacon Capital Partners, Comcast Corp
> Years served: 27
> Votes with party: 96.5%

Telecommunications giant Comcast donated the fourth-largest amount of money to John Kerry in the most recent election cycle. Kerry was also a supporter of the Comcast takeover of NBC in January 2011, according to Politico. While many politicians were skeptical of the deal, Kerry stated that “the merger review process aimed to strike the right balance between a company’s right to merge and the need to promote the public interest, and I believe the end result is a solid step forward.” The senator also owns $1.75 million worth of shares in Comcast, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
> Major contributors: Club for Growth, Citigroup Inc, Phelps Dodge Corp
> Years served: 24
> Votes with party: 97.8%

Jon Kyl received $34,450 in contributions from Phelps Dodge Corp during the 2005-2010 election cycle. The mining company was acquired by Freeport-McMoRan and is now known as Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. in 2007. Phelps Dodge was ranked by the Political Economy Research Institute as the twenty-third worst air polluter in the country. Kyl has voted in favor of barring the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. The senator, who received over $3.7 million from the financial sector between 1989 and 2008, also supported repealing “Depression-era restrictions on commercial banks, investment banks and insurance companies,” as OpenSecrets writes, resulting in major banks expanding in size and reaching  “too big to fail” status.

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Pat Toomey (R-PA)
> Major contributors: Air Products & Chemicals Inc, CONSOL Energy, Exelon Corp
> Years served: 8
> Votes with party: 91.4%

Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania receives a significant amount of contributions from energy companies. These include, within the last election cycle, $26,400 from Exelon Corp, $29,500 from CONSOL Energy, and $33,100 from Air Products & Chemicals Inc. The Senator has stated his opposition to cap-and-trade due to the negative effects it would have on Pennsylvania businesses. He has also voted to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and to bar the EPA from limiting greenhouse gases. Energy companies such as Exelon and CONSOL are major producers of greenhouse gases.

Rob Portman (R-OH)
> Major contributors: American Financial Group, Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, Elliott Management
> Years served: 13
> Votes with party: 97.1%

In October 2010, Rob Portman was named by the New York Times as one of two senators who have received “sizable” donations from the coal industry. In the last election cycle, Portman received over $200,000 from the mining industry. Portman, like many other politicians, voted in favor of barring the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. Portman has also spoken out against cap-and-trade, saying that the policy would cause manufacturing plants to close.

Xavier Becerra (D-CA)
> Major contributors: Oaktree Capital Management, Fresenius Medical Care, LHC Group
> Years served: 8
> Votes with party: 92.7%

In October 2010, Rob Portman was named by the New York Times as one of two senators who have received “sizable” donations from the coal industry. In the last election cycle, Portman received over $200,000 from the mining industry. Portman, like many other politicians, voted in favor of barring the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. Portman has also spoken out against cap-and-trade, saying that the policy would cause manufacturing plants to close.

Jim Clyburn (D-SC)
> Major contributors: General Electric, RLJ Companies, Energy Future Holdings Corp
> Years served: 18
> Votes with party: 90.4%

Jim Clyburn, in his own words, is “an ardent supporter of expanding our country’s nuclear capacity.” He adds,“In our state of South Carolina, more than 50 percent of our electricity is produced by nuclear power. New technology makes nuclear a very safe, and viable energy alternative.” Clyburn received $16,498 in contributions from Energy Future Holdings Corp for the 2009-2010 election cycle, and $9,500 from Southern Co for the 2011-2012 cycle. Both of these companies operate nuclear plants. The congressman has pushed for federal action in the nuclear sector, supporting such projects as transforming plutonium from old weapons into nuclear fuel, and others.

Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)
> Major contributors: Corstone Capital, National Education Assn, Boeing Co
> Years served: 8
> Votes with party: 95.0%

Two of Chris Van Hollen’s largest contributors are aerospace and defense companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin, both of which donated over $10,000 to the congressman during the 2009-2010 election cycle. Van Hollen has supported a highly-active military presence overseas. He has supported assistance to Pakistan, involvement in Libya, and voted against removing troops from Afghanistan. Military action is an intrinsically profitable action for defense contractors. Another one of Van Hollen’s largest contributors is the National Education Association. Van Hollen has been a major supporter of education bills such as the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act and the Education Jobs and Medicaid Assistance Act. Both of these acts, which increase the amount of money given to public education, were pushed for by the NEA.

Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)
> Major contributors: First State Bank, American Bankers Assn, Bank of America
> Years served: 8
> Votes with party: 91.7%

Jeb Hensarling is the other co-chairperson of the super committee. The congressman has strong ties to the financial industry. During the 2009-2010 election cycle alone, he received $15,000 from First State Bank, $12,000 from the American Bankers Association, and $11,500 from Bank of America. Over the course of his congressional career, Hensarling has received at least $94,500 from Bank of America, $77,000 from the American Bankers Association, and at least $69,000 from JP Morgan Chase. After the passing of TARP, Hensarling sought to terminate the program, making it easier for banks to pay back what they owe. He also has stated his opposition to new regulations in the financial sector.

Dave Camp (R-MI)
> Major contributors: Dow Chemical, Altria Group, General Electric
> Years served: 20
> Votes with party: 91.6%

During the 2009-2010 election cycle, Dave Camp received a particularly large contribution of $32,850 from Altria Group, the parent company of Philip Morris USA. In early 2009, Camp voted against a bill that would raise federal cigarette taxes from $0.39 per pack to $1.00 per pack. He also received over $45,000 from Dow Chemical, of which he owns $250,001 to $500,000 worth of stock. Dow is located in Camp’s district. Camp has voted against CO2 limits and allowing the EPA to limit greenhouse gases, which gives Dow more room to run its business as desired. He has also supported federal trade agreements that benefit the company.

Fred Upton (R-MI)
> Major contributors: EnergySolutions Inc, Ford Motor, CMS Energy
> Years served: 24
> Votes with party: 88.3%

The energy industry is among Fred Upton’s largest campaign contributors. From 2009-2010, EnergySolutions Inc donated $39,800, CMS Energy donated $22,750, and DTE Energy donated $20,400. In March 2011, Upton introduced the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011. The bill is meant to prevent the EPA from imposing new, costly greenhouse gas regulations on companies. In defense of his bill, Upton stated that “Left unchecked, EPA’s actions would have a devastating impact on jobs, U.S. competitiveness, and domestic energy prices.”

This content was originally published on 24/7 Wall St. 

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