Who Bankrolls Congress?

Published — June 10, 2010 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Backing Pelosi: A labor of love


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press)

Who has funded the ascent of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi? A prominent trial lawyer, his graphic-designer wife, a healing-touch practitioner whose grandfather founded IBM, a land developer, and a savings and loan magnate comprise the top five individual donors throughout Pelosi’s career, while eight labor unions, the National Association of Realtors, and JPMorgan Chase lead all political action committee contributors to the California Democrat.

The rankings emerged from the Center for Public Integrity’s examination of CQ MoneyLine data on Pelosi’s contribution records for both campaign accounts and leadership PACs, stretching back to her initial federal race in 1987. The Center’s probe of Pelosi’s finances marks the fourth in a series of pieces on top donors to congressional leaders.

When Pelosi won a June 1987 special election to represent California’s Fifth (now Eighth) Congressional District, her campaign cost about $1 million. The daughter and sister of former Baltimore mayors only narrowly won her primary (35 percent to 31 percent) but easily won the general election with roughly 63 percent of the vote. In 11 elections since, her San Francisco-based district re-elected her with at least 70 percent every time. With little electoral opposition, Pelosi didn’t ramp up her fundraising again until 1999, when she began a campaign for Congressional leadership and established PAC to the Future, a leadership political action committee. It distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to her Democratic colleagues, and they elected her Democratic whip in 2001, minority leader in 2002, and the first female speaker of the House in 2007.

Pelosi’s strong financing backing from labor unions corresponds closely with her fiercely pro-labor voting record. The AFL-CIO’s scorecards indicate 100 percent support from Pelosi for their legislative priorities in 2008 and 2009, and (as of the end of 2008) a 95 percent lifetime score for the speaker.

Dating back to the dawn of her House career, Pelosi “seemed likely to develop a prominent role in Congress, and it made sense for unions to demonstrate early and continuing support,” said Congressional expert Thomas E. Mann of the Brookings Institution. And it paid off — one labor union leader told the Center, “Anything that’s benefited working families, she’s supported.” Congressional scholar David Karol of the University of California, Berkeley, also noted that Pelosi was mentored by lawmakers with close ties to labor, including her predecessors in the seat, Phil and Sala Burton.

Not surprisingly, labor ties have not always endeared her to the business community. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce gives Pelosi just a 26 percent lifetime score. And Patrick Semmens, spokesman for National Right to Work (which fights against “compulsory unionism”), told the Center that “Congresswoman Pelosi has repeatedly put union boss power grabs ahead of the rights of individual employees and the well-being of the economy. Those giveaways are worth billions to Big Labor, so it’s hardly surprising to see that union officials are her most reliable contributors.”

Of the nearly $20 million Pelosi has raised for her committees since 1987, more than $10.4 million came from individuals and more than $8.8 million came from other political committees. In all, the top ten institutional supporters kicked in at least $1.2 million of Pelosi’s funds, nearly 14 percent of her all-time PAC total. The top five individuals alone contributed more than $240,000 to Pelosi’s committees, about 2.3 percent of her overall individual total.

Jennifer Crider, political director for Pelosi, explained the contributions by noting: “Many Americans have supported Speaker Pelosi’s leadership, share her vision for the country, and her focus on the issues most important to Americans: the education of our children, the health of their families, and the security of our communities.”

Top ten political action committee donors

1. International Brotherhood of Teamsters — $142,350
The top PAC donor of Speaker Pelosi’s career has been the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), with at least $142,350 in contributions. This includes the PAC for its affiliate, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, and the PAC for the Graphic Communications International Union, which has merged with the Teamsters. With a current membership of 1.4 million, the Teamsters are one of the nation’s largest labor unions. Pelosi earned a 100 percent score from the union on its legislative scorecard for the 111th Congress based on her support for the Affordable Health Care for America Act (the House version of the health care reform bill), the Jobs for Main Street Act (a $75 billion stimulus bill), and the American Workers, State, and Business Relief Act of 2010 (an emergency economic relief bill). Pelosi also stands with the union in support of a key priority, the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill to make it easier for employees to unionize. A Teamsters spokesman declined to comment.

2. AFSCME — $136,000
Pelosi once stated “I have no better friend in labor than AFSCME [the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees].” With the possible exception of the Teamsters, this is true; with at least $136,000 in contributions, the 1.6 million-member labor union ranks second. AFSCME has been a loyal supporter since it endorsed Pelosi in her 1987 primary and, in turn, the speaker has been a good friend to the union. Pelosi has a career 99 percent score from AFSCME, and her score for 2008 was 100 percent, driven by her support for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), Medicaid funding, equal pay for women, and other priority legislation. She also has vigorously backed the Employee Free Choice Act, a high priority for AFSCME and other labor unions that would make it easier for workers to unionize. In a speech prior to a 2007 vote on the bill, she called it “the most important labor law reform legislation of this generation.” AFSCME did not respond to a request for comment.

3. National Association of Realtors — $129,850
In third, with a minimum of $129,850 in donations to Pelosi, is the National Association of Realtors, the trade association for real estate agents. The NAR supported the Recovery Rebates and Economic Stimulus for the American People Act of 2008, which increased mortgage loan limits for the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. Pelosi was the lead sponsor of the bill, highlighting its provisions to “expand affordable mortgage loan opportunities for families at risk of foreclosure” and to “enhance credit availability in the mortgage market.” Lucien Salvant, NAR’s head of public affairs, told the Center that Pelosi has been “a very strong supporter” of realtors and noted her pivotal role in keeping banks from entering the real estate brokerage and property management business. “It’s our job,” Salvant added, “to support real estate issues and to support those in Congress who are supportive of our issues, regardless of party.”

4. National Education Association — $128,500
With at least $128,500 in PAC contributions, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, ranks fourth on the list. Pelosi received an “A” grade for 2009 from the NEA and the union’s health care reform views closely resemble the speaker’s own proposals, which emphasize coverage for the uninsured and creation of a public option. The NEA and Pelosi also oppose private school vouchers, such as the District of Columbia Scholarship Program, which Pelosi repeatedly voted against. NEA Director of Government Relations Kim Anderson told the Center that Pelosi “has been a valued and trusted ally in the fight to improve public education, the lives of children, and the lives of adults who serve them.” But the union and the speaker do not always march in lock step. Pelosi spoke glowingly of President Obama’s proposed recent revisions of the No Child Left Behind law, while the NEA said the new blueprint “has significant problems and raises serious concerns.”

5. UAW — $122,000
The United Auto Workers came in fifth place with a minimum of $122,000 to Pelosi’s coffers. Pelosi received a perfect score from UAW for her 2008 votes on expanding unemployment insurance,SCHIP, and the federal budget. She also backed the multi-billion-dollar bailout of auto companies as it passed through the House. The bailout, which was supported by UAW to save jobs, came under fire when Republicans attempted to attach provisions to the bill that would have forced pay cuts forUAW members. Pelosi backed the bill without these additions, urging “immediate action … to provide emergency and limited financial assistance to the automobile industry.” A UAWspokeswoman declined to comment for this story.

6. Laborers’ International — $120,750
In sixth place, with at least $120,750 in contributions, is the Laborers’ International union, which calls itself “the most progressive, aggressive and fastest-growing union of construction workers, and one of the most diverse and effective unions representing public service employees.” A signature issue for the group is immigration reform and its views closely match the speaker’s in supporting a path to citizenship for workers currently residing in the U.S. illegally. Spokesman Jacob Hay told the Center Pelosi has been a consistent supporter of laborers’ concerns. “The contributions of our members are part of their struggle to build a better economy and rebuild America’s middle class. Speaker Pelosi has always stood with them.”

7. Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association — $116,000
The Sheet Metal Workers International Association, with $116,000 or more in contributions, ranks seventh. The labor union has backed health care reform (including a public option) and the Employee Free Choice Act —- both Pelosi priorities. When the Bush administration rescinded the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires that federal construction projects pay workers prevailing wages, for the disaster areas hit by Katrina in 2005, the wages of Sheet Metal Workers involved in the recovery were among the most imperiled. The 150,000-plus member union demanded legislation to overturn Bush’s executive order. Pelosi denounced the administration’s action and immediately became a co-sponsor of legislation to reinstate the Davis-Bacon rules. As congressional opposition grew, the administration backed down and restored the wage protections. Vincent Panvini, the group’s political director, told the Center it supports Pelosi because “She’s pro-worker, pro-family, and pro-union —- and she’s proud of it.”

8. JPMorgan Chase — $113,200
With at least $113,200 in donations, Pelosi’s eighth largest career patron has been JPMorgan Chase & Co., including the corporate PACs connected with the many former companies that now make up the global financial services behemoth (Providian, Bank One, Washington Mutual, and Chemical Bank, among others). As speaker, Pelosi was key to the 2008 enactment of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which was intended to bail out the sector amidst the economic meltdown. JPMorgan Chase received at least $25 billion in TARP funds, though it has since paid back the money (by buying back the U.S. Treasury’s preferred stock investments and sending the government nearly $800 million in dividends). A JPMorgan Chase spokesman declined to comment for this story.

9. International Association of Machinists — $109,500
In ninth, the International Association of Machinists contributed at least $109,500 to Pelosi’s committees. The 720,000-member labor union lists Pelosi as having voted with them on all of the 49 scored votes she cast, dating back to 1999, ranging from collective bargaining to trade with China, ergonomics policy, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which adjusted rules on the statute of limitations for discriminatory compensation complaints. Matt McKinnon, the union’s political director, told the Center that while “there are no quick benefits” from the union’s association with the speaker, the relationship helps gradually “change the dialogue” on trade issues.

10. Air Line Pilots Association — $104,000
The tenth most generous PAC backer was the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) with at least $104,000. The 50,000-plus pilot labor union has several good reasons to support Pelosi. United Airlines and Virgin America have hubs in San Francisco, and she has helped enact favored legislation, including the recent Airline Flight Crew Technical Corrections Act (which expanded family leave for pilots) and the post-Sept. 11, 2001, airline industry bailout. Pelosi also supported an FAAreauthorization bill that would address pilot fatigue, enhance runway safety, and expand research on wake turbulence and aircraft icing dangers. The ALPA did not respond to a request for comment.

Top five individual donors

1. John W. Keker — $58,800
Pelosi’s top individual contributor, with at least $58,800 in contributions, is John W. Keker. Keker, 66, a nationally recognized San Francisco-based trial lawyer, was chief prosecutor of Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, and has represented clients ranging from Enron Corp.’s disgraced chief financial officer Andrew Fastow to Google Inc. A fierce defender of the jury trial and fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, International Academy of Trial Lawyers, American Board of Trial Advocates, and American Bar Foundation, he represented lawyer and tort reform opponent Richard Scruggs against charges of conspiracy to bribe a judge — though Keker himself does not appear to have been actively involved with the tort reform fight. Scruggs eventually pleaded guilty. Pelosi has derided Republican tort reform efforts as a “payback to big business, at the expense of consumers.” In a 2008 San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece, Keker praised Pelosi for supporting a proposal to raise the salaries for federal judges. They have worked together on projects over the years, including a 2002 benefit for a non-profit veterans’ assistance group. A 2006 Chronicle article named Keker as one of Pelosi’s closest friends and advisers, noting that he and other members of Pelosi’s “well-heeled fundraising base” had “helped propel her to power.”

2. Christina Day Keker — $53,800
Christina Day Keker, with at least $53,800 in donations, ranks just behind her husband as Pelosi’s second largest contributor. A graphic designer with her own company —- Tina Keker Design —- she has given generously to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and to party candidates. She and her husband also gave generously to the Lawyers’ Leadership Council for Equality to oppose California’s Proposition 8 (gay marriage ban) in 2008; Pelosi opposed the ban and supports allowing same-sex couples to marry. Neither John nor Christina Keker would comment.

3. Bernard A. Osher — $43,800
Ranking third: Bernard Osher, 82, who has given at least $43,800 to Pelosi’s committees dating back to her initial run in 1987. A founding director of World Savings Bank and former owner of a major auction house, Osher has made several Forbes lists of billionaires. World Savings, which he co-founded, and its parent company, Golden West Financial, were sold to Wachovia Corp. in 2006. The Center for Public Integrity reported last year in it’s Who’s Behind the Financial Meltdown project, that subprime loans by World Savings were widely blamed for Wachovia’s decline, but also noted that the vast majority of these loans were made only after Wachovia’s acquisition. A controversial Saturday Night Live skit lampooned Pelosi for her connections to Golden West. Osher has distributed hundreds of millions of dollars to support education and the arts through his Bernard Osher Foundation. Pelosi has backed both causes. Following the 1989 California earthquake, Pelosi intervened with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ensure $4.6 million to rebuild the American Conservatory Theater’s battered Geary Theatre in San Francisco. Osher’s foundation kicked in at least another million for the effort (and has donated hundreds of thousands more in support of the theater company). Pelosi remarked at the time that she “had to persuade [FEMA] that in San Francisco the arts are a basic human need.” Pelosi also supported 2004 legislation containing an earmark of $198,000 for Sonoma State University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Since 2000, Osher’s foundation has established more than 120 such Lifelong Learning Institutes around the country to offer programs for adults aged 50 and older. Osher did not respond to a request for comment.

4. Lucinda B. Watson — $43,000
With at least $43,000 in contributions to Pelosi’s committees, Lucinda B. Watson ranks fourth. Her grandfather, Thomas J. Watson, founded IBM; her father, Thomas J. Watson Jr., was its CEO and President Carter’s ambassador to the Soviet Union. As a former communication teacher at the Haas School of Business at Berkeley and an heiress to the family fortune and legacy, she has been an active philanthropist. Her website describes her as a published author, career counselor, poet, and “certified healing touch practitioner” in Greenwich, Conn. Her blog conveys some criticism of recent wars (“I think we have wasted countless dollars as well as human lives on wars we had no reason to get involved with other than the ego of our military leaders and our presidents.”). Pelosi has been a leading critic of the Iraq War, calling it “a grotesque mistake that has diminished our reputation in the world and has not made America safer.” Watson told the Center her donations began in 1987 due to her then-husband Alexander Mehran’s personal friendship with Pelosi. She joked that not only had she never received anything in return for her donations, but given her unusual occupation, she was not even sure what she could get from Pelosi.

5. Alexander R. Mehran — $40,950
Alexander R. Mehran, Watson’s former husband, is Pelosi’s fifth-ranking donor, with at least $40,950 in contributions. Mehran took over his family’s land business, Sunset Development Co. According to author Joel Garreau, under Mehran’s leadership Sunset made the San Ramon Valley’s Bishop Ranch the core of “one of the biggest Edge Cities in the San Francisco Bay area.” Mehran is, perhaps, best known for hosting a $1,000-a-person fundraiser with then-candidate Barack Obama, at which Obama was recorded by a blogger suggesting blue-collar workers tend to “get bitter [and] cling to guns or religion.” Mehran has given to candidates on both sides of the aisle, including George W. Bush. Mehran told the Center, “Nancy, her husband Paul, and I have been personal friends for more than 30 years,” dating back to before her political career. “My support of her is totally based on supporting a friend in her personal endeavors [and not] any political views.”

Staff writer Caitlin Ginley contributed to this report. Numbers are from a Center for Public Integrity analysis of CQMoneyLine data. Totals include individual and political committee contributions to Nancy Pelosi’s Congressional campaign committee, PAC to the Future, and Team Majority (formerly Team Pelosi), from their inception through the end of 2009.

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