Who Bankrolls Congress?

Published — June 9, 2010 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

John Boehner: A pro-business agenda


Speaker of the House John Boehner. Charles Dharapak/The Associated Press

Long before Congressman John Boehner of Ohio rose to his current position as House Republican Leader, he created the “Thursday Group” — a weekly discussion around a U.S. Capitol conference room table with conservative and business lobbyists, including representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other influential trade associations. In Washington, those sorts of relationships often pay dividends. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Boehner’s top career donors include a lobbyist-turned-tobacco executive, two former CEOs of an insurance company, the head of a coal company, and a former telecommunications lobbyist, as well as corporate political action committees for two tobacco behemoths, two shipping companies, and four financial services firms and associations.

Those are the results of the Center for Public Integrity’s review of CQ Moneyline information on Boehner’s contribution history for both campaign accounts and leadership PACs, dating back to his first federal race two decades ago. The Center’s probe of Boehner’s finances marks the third in a series of pieces on top donors to Congressional leaders.

Boehner, 60, whose district is in southwestern Ohio, began his career working in the packaging and plastics industry. After two years on the Union Township Board of Trustees and six in the Ohio House of Representatives, Boehner made his first bid for federal office in 1990. Though he raised and spent less than $750,000, he defeated the scandal-plagued incumbent Republican in a primary and easily won the Ohio’s 8th Congressional District seat in the general election. He has won more than 60 percent of the vote in his heavily Republican district in every election since.

Following the 1994 Republican takeover in the House of Representatives, Boehner became chairman of the Republican Conference — the number four position in the leadership — but after the 1998 elections, he lost the post. The Ohio Republican remained active in Congress and in 2006 returned to the leadership, elected by his party to be Republican Majority Leader. Since his party lost its majority following the November 2006 elections, Boehner has served as House Minority Leader.

Boehner ran for his leadership post on a platform of lobbyist reform, telling Fox News Channel: “I’ve got a long record of … reforming Congress, and I think we need more reforms to make sure that there’s transparency in the relationship between those who lobby us and members themselves.” But much of his campaign funding continues to come from lobbyists. Boehner’s Freedom Project leadership PAC has distributed millions of dollars — mostly raised from other PACs — to Republican Congressional candidates. Between his PAC and campaign committee, Boehner has taken in more than $30 million in campaign cash. His close ties with lobbyists, however, have turned off even the occasional House Republican — then-Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut opposed Boehner’s leadership bid in 2006, noting “The problem John faces is that he’s so close to K Street.”

Boehner’s career has been marked by aggressive support of business interests. He has backed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s position 93 percent of the time through his Congressional career. TheAFL-CIO says he voted against their interests on every vote he cast in 2008 and 2009, and, as of 2008, backed the labor coalition just 5 percent of the time over his career. Boehner authored the 2006 Pension Protection Act, which expanded tax breaks for those who invest in retirement savings plans, and was also behind the law that implemented the U.S. free trade agreement with Oman. He has been a strong opponent of anti-tobacco legislation as well. While Ohio has no tobacco manufacturing facilities, the most recent data available showed the Buckeye State was home to 475 tobacco farms in 2007, though the total has declined dramatically in recent years. Boehner has also reliably opposed the Obama administration — on the stimulus package, health care reform, Children’s Health Insurance Program reauthorization, and financial regulation. One hundred days into Obama’s administration, Boehner said the Democratic legislative agenda made him “want to throw up.”

Boehner’s top five individual contributors combined to provide at least $263,900, or just over two percent of his individual grand total. The top ten PAC supporters kicked in at least $1.77 million, nearly eleven percent of his all-time PAC total.

When reached for a comment, Don Seymour, a spokesman for Boehner, said “Mr. Boehner has been blessed with generous supporters who share his vision of freedom, reform, and a smaller, more accountable government, and who know he’s a principled public servant who always does what’s right for his constituents and our country.”

Top ten political action committee donors

1. AT&T Inc. — $240,105
AT&T Inc. tops the list of all-time givers among PACs, with at least $240,105 from its corporate PACs and the PACs for companies, such as Ameritech, BellSouth, and Cingular, that are now part of the telecommunications giant. Though the company is active on a range of issues, a major recent concern was its 2008 fight over the legality of the George W. Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. Boehner was a strong supporter of amnesty for companies — including AT&T — that were being sued for aiding the administration’s anti-terrorism surveillance, blasting Congressional opponents for “leaving companies who assisted our government after 9/11 exposed to frivolous and costly lawsuits simply to line the pockets of the Democratic leadership’s trial lawyer allies.” With his support, legislation was enacted in 2008 to grant immunity to AT&T and other companies. AT&T did not return calls seeking comment.

2. CME Group — $225,850
In second place, with $225,850 or more in donations, is the CME Group, which includes the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade. Boehner has opposed Democratic efforts to institute a per-transaction fee on financial transactions, including futures. The Center for Public Integrity’s 2005 Power Trips investigation revealed that Boehner was the recipient of six trips fromCME Group subsidiaries. Trips such as these were later made illegal. A CME spokeswoman told the Center it does “not comment on our lobbying efforts.”

3. Bank of America Corp. — $207,000
Bank of America Corp. (BoA) ranks third among donors to Boehner with no less than $207,000, which includes the bank’s political action committee, along with PACs for now-merged former institutions like Bank of Boston, Countrywide, Fleet, Merrill Lynch, MBNA, NationsBank, and Shawmut. Since 2008, BoA has received at least $45 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, which have since been repaid. Boehner joined just 90 other House Republicans to help enact the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which created TARP, and opposed the later TARP Reform and Accountability Act, a bill to tighten oversight for TARP recipients which passed the House, but stalled in the Senate. BoA did not return calls seeking a comment.

4. Altria Group Inc. — $181,959
Boehner’s fourth largest PAC, with at least $181,959, is the Altria Group Inc., parent of the Philip Morris family of tobacco companies. Despite his general support for Altria’s agenda, Boehner split with the company on a recent key vote and instead joined most other tobacco companies in opposing giving the Food and Drug Administration oversight of tobacco. The bill, signed into law in January, was opposed by critics who feared its restrictions would give Altria a competitive advantage. Bruce Gates, himself Boehner’s top individual donor and Altria’s senior vice president of government affairs, told the Center that he was unsurprised the company’s PAC made the top ten, as the firm maintains one of the nation’s largest corporate PACs. “It’s a big part of our political interest as a company to have a political system that recognizes individual responsibility, personal freedoms, and commitment to a strong business climate,” he explained, noting that Boehner’s record has been generally consistent with those tenets.

5. United Parcel Service Inc. — $165,750
In fifth place, with at least $165,750 in donations, is United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS), including contributions from the PAC for the now-merged Overnite Corp. Boehner has a long history of opposing new workplace requirements that would cost employers money, especially in regard to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In 1995, OSHA said that it had received more complaints about UPS than any other company since 1972, and UPS has since spent heavily lobbying on labor issues. In his one-time role as chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Boehner was particularly active in working against OSHA’s proposed ergonomics standard, which deals directly with stress disorders caused by repetitive motions and lifting — an issue with obvious impact on the shipping giant. After a 10-year battle, the standard went into place in January 2001; in March of that year, the House and Senate voted to overturn the rule, and the repeal became one of the first items signed by President George W. Bush. Before voting for the repeal, Boehner issued a statement calling OSHA’s approach “neither feasible nor desirable.” UPSalso hired longtime Boehner aide Greg Maurer as a lobbyist in 2009. Malcolm Berkley, a UPSspokesman, told the Center the firm’s PAC supports candidates “who share our beliefs in fair competition, free enterprise, and global trade.” He said there was no connection between the PAC’s activities and Maurer’s hiring.

6. Reynolds American Inc. — $158,500
Sixth place on the list belongs to tobacco giant Reynolds American Inc., with a minimum of $158,500 donated to Boehner. Many of those checks that Boehner famously passed out on the House floor were from Brown & Williamson Tobacco, which later merged into Reynolds American. Boehner was one of the 102 representatives to vote against 2008’s Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which would have given the FDA oversight over tobacco; the legislation was opposed by almost all the major tobacco companies at the time, including Reynolds. Boehner described the bill as a “boneheaded idea” but was unable to stop it. Although the 2008 version died in the Senate, the bill passed in 2009 and was signed into law by President Obama last June. Once again, Boehner voted against it. A 2006 Center investigation revealed that Boehner had flown on the Reynolds corporate jet on 15 occasions between June 2001 and September 2005, reimbursing the company more than $11,000 for the privilege. At the time, a spokesman for Boehner’s PAC defended the controversial flights — since banned by the House — noting “Logistically, to get him from point A to point B and not be dictated by the commercial airlines in terms of departure time is a much more efficient way to travel.” A company spokesman defended the service as “critical for us to be able to defend our industry and product.” Reynolds did not return calls for comment for this story.

7. JPMorgan Chase & Co. — $154,925
With at least $154,925 in donations, seventh place goes to JPMorgan Chase & Co., including the corporate PACs connected with the many former companies that now make up the global financial services giant such as Bank One, Chemical Bank, Providian, and Washington Mutual. As minority leader, Boehner was key to the 2008 enactment of the $700 billion TARP program, which was intended to bail out the sector amidst the economic meltdown. JPMorgan received at least $25 billion in TARP funds, though it has since paid back the money. Through a spokeswoman, JPMorgan declined to comment.

8. American Maritime Officers — $150,500
The eighth-most generous PAC was American Maritime Officers, the largest union of merchant marine officers, with at least $150,500 in contributions. Among the group’s principal legislative interests are full funding for the Maritime Security Program (which supports a core fleet of U.S. ships that could be used in times of war and national emergencies), continued support for shipbuilding loan and mortgage guarantees, and funding of sealift ships, which are used for ocean transportation of government equipment and supplies. The lone labor union to crack Boehner’s top ten, and the rare labor union that backs Republicans and Democrats roughly equally, AMO’s support of Boehner paid off at least once, when the generally pro-business Boehner voted in favor of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004, which included the Maritime Security Act of 2003 and reauthorization for the Maritime Security Program through 2015. Originally part of the AFL-CIO, theAMO withdrew from the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association in 1994 and lost its AFL-CIO charter, although the group works with other unions through the Maritime Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. The AMO has had its share of legal problems in recent years; the union’s former president and former secretary-treasurer were both convicted in 2007 for a variety of offenses, including racketeering conspiracy and mail fraud in a scandal involving illegal campaign contributions to political candidates. AMO did not return calls for comment.

9. FedEx Corp. — $143,350
Ninth place belongs to shipping giant FedEx Corp., with a minimum of $143,350 in donations to Boehner’s committees. In 1996, FedEx flooded Congress with money and lobbyists in an attempt to attach a provision to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) reauthorization bill that would exempt FedEx from falling under the National Labor Relations Act; the provision would have made it harder for FedEx employees to unionize. After a three-day debate, the bill came out in the shipper’s favor. Boehner, then the House GOP Conference Chairman, backed the revised bill and praised the conference report in a floor speech for “furthering many projects that need to be done to improve the Nation’s airports.” He voted against the 2009 House version of the FAA reauthorization, which would remove the controversial provision. The bill is currently stalled in the Senate and FedEx continues to fight to preserve the rule. FedEx did not return calls for comment.

10. Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association — $142,390
In tenth place with at least $142,390 in contributions: the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), a financial trade organization that represents banks, securities firms, and asset management companies nationwide. The group drafted a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Boehner opposing the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009, the House’s main vehicle to reform financial regulation, arguing that “certain provisions will have a negative impact on the operation of the financial markets.” SIFMA said the bill would undermine U.S. credit markets, and “significantly reduce the capital available for lending.” Boehner voted against it, and was largely critical of the financial reform efforts, deriding them as the work of “punk staffers” and urging members of the American Bankers Association to “stand up for yourselves” against reform efforts.SIFMA sent another letter to House leadership in opposition of the Commodity Markets Transparency and Accountability Act of 2008; Boehner voted against that legislation as well. Both bills passed the House but stalled in the Senate. SIFMA did not return calls for comment.

Top five individual donors

1. Bruce A. Gates — $71,600
Boehner’s top individual donor, with at least $71,600 in contributions, is tobacco executive and lobbyist Bruce A. Gates. Their ties have been close for nearly two decades. In 2005, The Hill listed Gates as a member of Boehner’s “K Street Cabinet” of close lobbyist allies. Gates was part of Boehner’s Thursday Group. His wife, Joyce, worked for two years as Boehner’s chief of staff and, from 1995 to 2006, Bruce Gates served as treasurer of Boehner’s Freedom Project leadership PAC. For more than a decade (most of which overlapped his time at the Freedom Project), Gates was a registered lobbyist at Ernst & Young’s Washington Council. There his clients included Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc., Eli Lilly & Co., and Reynolds American Inc., parent of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. Gates has also lobbied for big clients in the steel industry, another major source of support for Boehner. One Gates client, AK Steel Corp., honored Boehner with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) Award for Manufacturing Legislative Excellence in 2009. According to NAM, Boehner has a 98 percent voting record in support of manufacturing. Since 2008, Gates has been vice president of government affairs for Altria Group Inc., the parent company of Philip Morris USA. Boehner, a chain smoker himself, is a strong supporter of Big Tobacco. In 1995, he passed out checks from tobacco companies on the House floor before a key vote — a move that was legal at the time, but about which he later conceded, “It sure doesn’t look good.” In an interview with the Center, Gates said he and Boehner enjoy “a robust relationship… I was attracted to his commitment to free enterprise, personal freedoms, and individual responsibility.”

2. John J. Schiff Jr. — $50,800
In second place, with at least $50,800 in contributions, is John J. Schiff Jr., the chairman — and former CEO — of Cincinnati Financial Corp., a top property casualty insurer group. In 1998, Cincinnati Financial praised the House for passing a financial modernization bill it called the most significant reform in 60 years; the firm also praised Boehner’s efforts on the bill as head of a Congressional task force created to draft the legislation. The bill would have allowed banks and insurance companies to combine into holding companies and would have given oversight authority to the Federal Reserve. The Senate, however, never voted on the measure. But while Boehner praised those proposals in the late 1990s, he has been less enthused about the Obama administration’s proposed financial service regulations, telling the Associated Press “I think it’s just going to be too big of a foot on an industry that already is having financial problems.” Schiff told the Center, through a spokeswoman, that while he “may not have always agreed with [Boehner] on every issue,” his contributions were aimed at giving “a hometown leader of high character and integrity a voice in the national discussion.”

3. Wayne M. Boich — $48,100
Wayne M. Boich, the CEO of the Boich Cos., a Columbus, Ohio-based coal firm, is Boehner’s third-biggest contributor, with at least $48,100 in donations. In 2008, Boich purchased the massive Signal Peak coal mine near Billings, Montana with FirstEnergy Corp. Boehner has been a fervent supporter of “clean coal” efforts that would fund research to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions of coal-fired power plants. Boehner also has praised coal-to-liquid fuel projects, which he believes would “produce innovative transportation fuel, increasing production of clean American energy and helping to reduce the price of gasoline.” He has staunchly opposed proposed cap-and-trade regulations that restrict how much carbon dioxide power plants can produce. Boehner voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which purported to create clean energy jobs and reduce global warming, arguing “ ‘Cap-and-trade’ is code for increasing taxes, killing American jobs, and raising energy costs for consumers.” Despite his opposition, the bill passed the House; it awaits Senate consideration. Three days after the House vote was held, Boehner received a $2,400 donation from Boich. Through a spokesman, Boich declined to comment.

4. Michael Boland — $47,900
With at least $47,900 in contributions, Michael Boland is Boehner’s fourth-most-generous individual donor. A one-time chief counsel to then-House Republican Whip Trent Lott, Boland also was a Verizon Communications Inc. senior vice president and a partner at a top lobbying firm before founding Dome Advisors LLC, a “policy and political risk advisory firm designed exclusively for institutional investors.” In doing so, he ended a 21-year lobbying career; over that time he had represented a wide array of business interests that could count on Boehner for support. Among them: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Verizon, SBC Communications Inc., and BellSouth. Boland’s work for the Chamber included lobbying for the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, the controversial bill to bail out the financial sector; Boehner was one of just 91 House Republicans joining 172 Democrats to pass the legislation. Boland’s work for the telecommunications companies focused predominantly on backing pro-telecommunications trade policies, including the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), which opened up wireless markets in those regions to American businesses. Boehner’s CAFTA-DR support proved vital as the bill passed by just a 217-215 majority. Boland was another of the lobbyists identified by The Hill in 2005 as part of Boehner’s “K Street Cabinet.” Boland did not respond to a request for comment.

5. Robert B. Morgan — $45,500
In fifth place, with $45,500 is Robert B. Morgan, who served as chief executive officer of Cincinnati Financial Corp. from 1991 until his retirement in 1999. Morgan has distributed tens of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and committees across the country. He also contributed to the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America’s InsurPac. The industry trade group has opposed creating a public option for health insurance — as has Boehner — and expressed significant “concern” about a House bill to repeal antitrust exemptions for health insurers. Boehner was one of just 19 members of the House to vote against the legislation, now awaiting Senate action. During Morgan’s last year as CEO, the company reported lobbying for the Policyholder Disaster Protection Act of 1999, and its provisions allowing insurers to set up separate “tax-deferred catastrophe reserves.” Boehner cosponsored the bill, though it did not come up for a vote. Morgan did not respond to a request for comment.

Numbers are from a Center for Public Integrity analysis of CQ Moneyline data. Totals include individual and political committee contributions to John Boehner’s Congressional campaign committee and the Freedom Project PAC, from their inception through the end of 2009. PAC totals include all subsidiaries and companies now part of current companies after merger or acquisition.

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