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June 7, 2010
8:35 AM

Who Bankrolls Congress? Series Examines Big Money Behind Congressional Leaders

Investigation Reveals Legislators Vigoursly Back Agendas of Their Top Patrons

WASHINGTON - June 7 - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have leaned heavily on labor unions and trial lawyers for campaign funds over the course of their Congressional careers, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio)'s have relied on corporations and trade associations. 

These are among the findings of the Center for Public Integrity's Who Bankrolls Congress? investigation, a comprehensive look at the top donors to Washington's most powerful lawmakers  - not just recently, but over the entire course of their federal careers. By analyzing of three decades worth of CQ MoneyLine records on contributions to all of their campaign committees and leadership PACs, the Center calculated the ten top PAC donors and five top individual contributors to each of the leadership quartet. The Center's investigation also probes the relationship between the donors' interests and the actions of these powerful politicians.

The first installment of the four-part series, a look at the ten top PAC contributors and five top individual donors to Senator Harry Reid, was released today. The remaining three stories will be posted this week on the Center's website: Mitch McConnell tomorrow, John Boehner on Wednesday, and Nancy Pelosi on Thursday.

The Center's research revealed that the top single career backer of Boehner, McConnell, and Reid was the same: telecommunications giant AT&T. Financial services interests were on the top ten lists of all four leaders, and tobacco companies were among the most generous contributors to McConnell of tobacco-growing Kentucky as well as to Boehner of western Ohio, and even the outspokenly anti-smoking Reid of Nevada.

Among the other findings:

  • The staunchly pro-business Boehner received more than $150,000 in contributions from a labor union, the American Maritime Officers, making it his eighth most generous contributor;
  • Pelosi's fourth-biggest individual donor, with at least $43,000, is Lucinda Watson, the granddaughter of the founder of IBM.  She describes herself as a "certified healing touch practitioner" from Greenwich, Conn;
  • Shipping giant United Parcel Service Inc. not only gave at least $89,500 in PAC contributions to McConnell - putting it seventh on his all-time list - the company also gave the Kentucky Republican Party a $50,000 gift to rebuild party headquarters: the "Mitch McConnell Building;"
  • Reid paid Phyllis Frias, his third-biggest individual donor with more than $31,000 in lifetime campaign donations, a personal tribute in a 2009 Senate floor speech praising her and her late husband. In his remarks, Reid raved that her Alamo, Nev. bed-and-breakfast had a future "as bright as the neon Vegas Vic cowboy sign."

The investigation involved combing through lobbying disclosure forms, voting records, press releases, and news stories to see whether the legislators vigorously backed the agendas of their top patrons. The answer: a definite yes.

Today's report on Reid notes that a former professional gambler, a taxi company magnate, a telecommunications lobbyist, and a giant tobacco company are among the top lifetime givers to the Senate's top Democrat, now facing the toughest re-election race of his political career.  And his top PAC supporters include not just AT&T, but the Laborers' International union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Bankers Association, and MGM Mirage.

Career Patrons Homepage:
Overview Story:
McConnell: (Link will be functional June 8, at 7AM (EST))
Boehner: (Link will be functional June 9, at 7AM (EST))
Pelosi: (Link will be functional June 10, at 7AM (EST))
The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit organization dedicated to producing original, responsible investigative journalism on issues of public concern. The Center is non-partisan and non-advocacy. We are committed to transparent and comprehensive reporting both in the United States and around the world.


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