November 4, 2012

PAC Money, ‘Outside Donations’ Fuel Tom Reed’s Re-Election Push

Print More

Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y. 29) often talks about the town hall forums he has held across upstate New York, citing them as evidence of grassroots support for his re-election. However, his opponent has accused him of funding his campaign through corporate interests.

For instance, on Oct. 21, with about two weeks until election day, Reed traveled south to attend a New York Giants football game. His purpose was not just to root on New York — after all, Giants offensive lineman Kevin Boothe ’06 has donated to Reed opponent Nate Shinagawa ’05 M.A. ’09 (D-N.Y.) — but also to raise money.

At the football game turned fundraiser, guests could sit with Reed in exchange for a “suggested contribution” of $500 per person, according to a flyer for the event obtained by The Sunlight Foundation from “anonymous lobbyist sources.” Moreover, if the individual was there representing a Political Action Committee, he or she was expected to fork over $1,500.

The top of the flyer notes that Reed is a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means — the group primarily responsible for writing taxes in the House, and thus one of the most powerful bodies in all of Washington, D.C. Its members rake in far more in campaign contributions than other Congressional representatives, and Reed is no exception.

Only five points separate Shinagawa from Reed in the closely contested race to become Ithaca’s next Congressional representative, according to a recent poll released by Shinagawa’s campaign team. But huge donations from multinational companies and undisclosed Political Action Committees have given Reed a massive fundraising advantage that could prove decisive on Tuesday.

In interviews with the press, Reed’s campaign has emphasized that it has received more money in total individual donations than Shinagawa. Since January, however, Shinagawa has received more donations from individuals than Reed, and the overwhelming source of Reed’s fundraising advantage stems from PAC gifts.

Whereas the average Congressional candidate has received $191,669 in PAC money, Reed has pulled in $1,068,280 — more than 10 times that received by Shinagawa, who received about $80,000 in PAC money, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Justice. Whereas Reed has benefited from $747,841 in what the Center for Responsive Politics calls “Outside Spending” — funding that is given by outside interest groups that cannot always be traced to any individual donor — Shinagawa has received just $423.

Reed, who did not return multiple requests for comment, has positioned himself as a champion of the private sector, excoriating the federal government for inhibiting the free market. No allegations of foul play have been made against Reed, and there is no evidence that big businesses’ support for Reed is anything but an overlap in ideology.

Additionally, though more reliant on PAC donations than most, Reed is hardly alone among Congressional representatives who have benefited from massive corporate spending this year. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens v. United that the government could not restrict corporations and unions from independent political expenditures, and, two years later, the results have been striking nationwide.

A recent series in Politico, “The Billion-Dollar Buy,” has detailed the surging role money has played at all levels of electoral politics. In a story Sunday, Politico noted that “to stay relevant in the new landscape, Congressional candidates and their party committees are trying to raise more cash from larger donors, including special interest political action committees.”

“This is the new normal in Congressional politics, where money, power and control have shifted away from party committees and candidates to deep-pocketed outside groups that — thanks to Citizens United and other recent court decisions — aren’t restricted by contribution limits,” the Politico story states.

That Reed is not alone in receiving significant corporate backing has not stopped many of his opponents, including Shinagawa, from saying the donation totals are evidence that Reed is beholden to moneyed interests. Reed’s disclosures with the Federal Election Commission, at least, indicate that the Congressman has put considerable time and money into events, like the Giants game, to elicit donations from the wealthiest Americans.

Reed, for instance, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on what the FEC classifies as “Fundraising Dinners” — a significant portion of which were held at glitzy venues outside of upstate New York.

On April 2, 2011, for instance, Reed spent $1,526 on a dinner at Masraff’s — a high-end restaurant in Houston, Texas, where steaks run up to $50 a pop. Then, a few months later, he spent $1,061 on a fundraising dinner at Carmine’s, an Italian restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Those efforts have translated into big advertising dollars for Reed, who is outspending Shinagawa by a margin of $1.6 million to about $600,000. While at least $30,000 has gone to the campaign’s catering fees, much of it has also been funnelled to advertisements.

And there is no indication that the tap is running dry. As election day approaches, representatives of oil and gas companies have dumped thousands of dollars into Reed’s campaign in a last-minute buy.

On Oct. 26, Quinin Little Company, Oil and Gas donated $1,000 to Reed; on Wednesday, the Chesapeake Energy Company donated $5,000; on Thursday, the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association PAC, a lobbying association of oil and gas companies, donated an additional $5,000.

According to Oil Change International, Reed has sided with the oil and gas companies on every vote he has taken in Congress.

Original Author: Jeff Stein