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Senators and House members dole out lots of cash. What's that about?

ASK THIS | October 12, 2004

Through so-called "leadership PACs," Tom DeLay, Hillary Clinton and others in Congress raise money and pass it on to colleagues. What do they get in return?

By Elaine S. Povich

  1. To whom do DeLay, Clinton and others with huge leadership PACs give money?
  1. From your best reporting, what do they get in return? Loyalty? Votes? Support for other candidates?
  1. To politicians who get the money: Do you know where it came from? Would it surprise you to know that it came from fill-in-the-blank industry? Is that important to you? Why, or why not?

Tom DeLay’s Political Action Committee, "Americans for a Republican Majority," with receipts of $1.8 million, got a $5,000 contribution last year from Anthony Alexander, president of First Energy Corp. of Ohio, which was directly involved in the August, 2003, massive blackout in the Northeast. Nothing wrong with that.

DeLay’s PAC, then, turned around and gave $5,000 to Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chairman of the House Commerce Committee (it used to be called the Energy and Commerce committee). Nothing wrong with that either, on the surface.

But, and here’s the question – What, if anything, did that money have to do with the fact that – despite lots of bluster about changing the energy rules in the nation and revamping the nation’s power grid which controls electricity – NOTHING was passed in Congress this year that would require energy companies like First Energy to do ANYTHING?

DeLay has a long history of throwing his money around – a tactic that may finally have caught up with him. When he was first running for House leadership in 1994, he campaigned in the districts of 25 House incumbents and, more importantly, doled out $2 million to House candidates – more than twice as much as his two opponents, Reps. Bill McCollum of Florida and Robert Walker of Pennsylvania. Any wonder why his colleagues voted him whip?

Recently, DeLay was recently cited by the House ethics committee (formally the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct) for implying to Kansas-based Westar Energy, Inc., that contributing to DeLay’s PAC would give them influence over energy legislation.

Is that the kind of influence individuals or firms think they are getting when they give to DeLay's PAC, despite the fact that it’s against House rules?

DeLay also was recently cited by the House ethics committee for improperly trying to influence Rep. Nick Smith’s vote on the Medicare prescription drug bill by offering him $100,000 for his son’s campaign. (Smith is retiring, and his son lost in a primary in an attempt to gain the seat.)

Q: For DeLay? Where would that money have come from? From your leadership PAC?

Clinton's Leadership PAC

The PAC of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Hillpac, took in more than $2 million through the middle of September 2004. It includes many donors from the financial industry, a natural because she represents New York, the nation’s financial center. She, in turn, gave away thousands of dollars to candidates, including $10,000 to Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat who is likely to win a Senate seat in November. Do you suppose he might try to boost Chicago’s financial industry over New York’s? That might not be a good thing for all those financial contributors who gave cash to Hillary hoping to help their businesses. Is this the law of unintended consequences?

Ask the donors: Did you get your money’s worth? Did you know that some of your money went to other Democrats? Does that surprise you? Will it influence your decisions to donate in the future?

All of these figures and many, many more can be found on the Web site of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks and parses political donations.

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