Contributions Soar for Would-Be Chairmen of House Panels

Contributions Soar for Would-Be Chairmen Despite Token Opponents
Representative Bill Shuster, Republican from Pennsylvania, is considered a frontrunner to be chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a panel that his father once led and which oversees federal highway, aviation and public transit programs worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

U.S. Representative Bill Shuster is on pace to have his best fundraising cycle, and much of that backing is coming from transportation industry supporters who don’t just want to see him re-elected to a seventh term in Congress -- they want to call him Mr. Chairman.

If Republicans retain control of the House in the Nov. 6 election, Shuster is considered the front-runner to lead the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a panel that oversees federal highway, aviation and public transit programs worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Since January 2011, the Pennsylvania Republican has raised 27 percent more than he did in 2009-2010 and is poised to exceed his record of $1.27 million in 2003-2004, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks political donations.

At least seven House committees may have fresh leaders next year, and industry groups and lobbyists that have business before the panels -- including those that deal with the budget, financial services, foreign affairs, legal issues and the space program -- are eager to show early support for prospective chairmen. At the same time, lawmakers who want to head the panels are trying to prove their influence and ward off would-be challengers through fundraising beyond their campaign needs.

Spread Money Around

“One of the ways that you make sure that you are a committee chair is to raise a lot of money and spread it around,” said Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that advocates government transparency. “That’s what people who are angling for a chairmanship do. They raise the money with the hopes of securing the support of leadership for that position.”

While Shuster has said he would someday like to be chairman of the committee once led by his father, Bud Shuster, he hasn’t publicly announced that he’s running for the post. Nevertheless, he has raised $1.09 million as of June 30, already up from $852,000 in 2009-2010.

Employees of transportation-related companies, their family members and the companies’ political action committees have stepped up their support. Donors from Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc., which didn’t donate to Shuster for his 2010 re-election bid, contributed $10,000 to his campaign and $12,250 to Bill PAC, his leadership political action committee. Those from AMR Corp., parent company of American Airlines, and the American Trucking Association both gave $10,000 in this campaign.

UPS, Carnival

Other major donors include employees, family members and PACs of United Parcel Service Inc., the cruise line Carnival Corp. and Berkshire Hathaway Inc., whose holdings include the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and Marquis Jet.

Democrat Karen Ramsburg, who qualified for the November ballot as a write-in candidate in Shuster’s district, has raised $5,540 -- less than one quarter of what has been donated to Shuster from Atlas Air contributors.

Departing committee leaders have been drawing less attention from some of the industry donors. Representative John Mica, who is finishing his final term as chairman of the House Transportation Committee, survived a primary contest against first-term Representative Sandy Adams in a redrawn district. Employees, family members and PACs of companies including Purchase, New York-based Atlas Air have given Mica, a Florida Republican, half the amount they have contributed to Shuster.

Bonnie Rodney, a spokeswoman for Atlas Air, declined to comment on the company’s support for Shuster.

‘Distinguished Leader’

Mary Frances Fagan, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, said contributions to Shuster were in recognition of his being a “distinguished leader on aviation issues.” Shuster’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The Transportation Committee is one of six committee chairmanships that will be open next year because of House Republicans’ self-imposed three-term limit for chairmen and ranking members. It’s unusual for lawmakers to formally seek a two-year extension after their third term, and rarer still for waivers to be granted. If Republicans keep the House majority, committee chairmen will be selected by the party’s new and veteran lawmakers following the November election.

Another panel that probably will have a new leader next year is the Financial Services Committee, which oversees the Dodd-Frank financial services overhaul. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, a member of the committee, may catapult over longer-serving Republicans to succeed Spencer Bachus of Alabama as chairman.

‘Mirror Their Views’

“I’m pretty confident” Hensarling will become chairman, said Brandon Barford, a former Republican aide on the Senate Banking Committee who is now a vice president at ACG Analytics Inc., an investment research firm in Washington.

“Members would want their chairman to mirror their views, and Hensarling fits that bill,” Barford said. “He also raises pretty large amounts of money from the financial services community. He’s a frequent fundraiser in New York.”

Hensarling has seen donations rise to $2.38 million, compared with $1.75 million in his last election. His Democratic opponent this year, Linda Mrosko, has reported raising about $5,000.

Financial Firms

Employees, family members and PACs of 23 financial services companies have donated at least $15,000 to Hensarling in 2011 and 2012. The top donors are from JPMorgan Chase & Co., with $34,500 in contributions -- almost double what he received in 2009 and 2010 from donors connected with the bank.

Other major donors are from Visa Inc., KPMG LLP, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, Bank of America Corp., Capital One Financial Corp. and the Independent Community Bankers of America.

Hensarling spokesman David Popp declined to discuss the congressman’s role next year, saying the Texan was “laser focused” on his current leadership role as chairman of the House Republican Conference and on “representing his constituents to the best of his ability.”

Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, tapped by Mitt Romney to be the Republican vice presidential nominee, faces a term limit as chairman of the House Budget Committee. As chairman, Ryan wrote a budget proposal that has drawn support from Tea Party backers.

Possible Extension

Under Wisconsin law, Ryan can run for the vice presidency and his House seat. If the Republican presidential ticket loses and Ryan wins re-election to Congress, House leaders would have to decide whether to grant him an extension as chairman or move him to a leadership role. They could place Ryan in a temporary position until the top Republican slot opens on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in 2015.

Other leadership spots that will be open next year are on the Judiciary Committee, which considers legal and social issues; the Science, Space and Technology Committee, which oversees the space program; and the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Some chairman positions that are up for grabs probably won’t result in a fundraising boost. While Cliff Stearns’s primary defeat in Florida this week opens up his seat as head of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, companies won’t be lining up to back his successor on the panel, according to Craig Holman of Public Citizen.

Holman, government affairs lobbyist for the Washington-based advocacy group, said that certain subcommittees “don’t really directly relate to passing legislation that affects the main corporate donors.”

“The Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations is not what anyone would consider one of the gold-mine committees, so it just isn’t going to pull in that type of corporate cash,” he said.

Rules Opening

In a Republican-majority House, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio will also appoint a new head of the Rules Committee to succeed David Dreier of California, who is retiring. The chairman of that panel, which establishes rules governing floor debate, is usually a loyal ally of the speaker.

Even if they haven’t made their intentions publicly known, lawmakers probably are soliciting funds by telling potential donors that they’re going to run for a chairmanship. That fundraising makes them more attractive to their party’s leaders, Allison said.

“Part of the argument that the member can make is that he can bring the money in,” he said. “The way to rise in power in Congress is to raise a lot of money.”

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