During the 2018 midterms, more than 100 candidates for the House of Representatives pledged to reject campaign contributions from political action committees (PACs) representing corporations, and 40 of them won their elections and are now serving in the House.
The trend against corporate PACs makes political sense. “Money in politics” was cited by the most people as the cause of dysfunction in the U.S. political system in an October 2017 survey, and an overwhelming majority of voters said that corruption and malfeasance in the federal government was a top issue in a September 2018 poll. In many cases the candidates who rejected corporate PACs outraised their corporate PAC-backed opponents by significant margins.
Despite the energy around rejecting corporate PACs, many representatives have chosen to stick by their corporate donors and rely on their generosity to finance their campaigns. The representatives who rely most heavily on corporate PAC contributions tend to receive very little funding from small donors and individuals, and they also tend to be powerful incumbents who have positions in party leadership and hold top roles on important committees.
Here are the eight House representatives who took more than two-thirds of their overall campaign funding in the 2018 cycle from PACs representing corporations and corporate trade associations:
John Shimkus (R-Ill.) — 81.3% funded by corporate PACs ($1,599,087)
No member of Congress—in either the House of Representatives or the Senate—relied more on the support of corporate PACs in the last election than Republican John Shimkus of Illinois’ 15th Congressional District. Shimkus is the Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, and many of his top PAC donors are in the oil and gas industry, including Marathon Petroleum and Andeavor, which was acquired by Marathon in October ($17,000), Duke Energy ($10,000), Exelon ($10,000), and Phillips 66 ($10,000). The electric utilities industry, which primarily includes utilities that contribute to climate change by burning oil, gas and coal and emitting carbon dioxide, gave Shimkus more money than any other industry last cycle, with PACs of utility companies contributing $168,500.
Of the $1.97 million his campaign raised in the 2018 cycle, Shimkus received only 195 contributions of more than $200 from individuals and less than 2 percent from small donors giving $200 or less. The rest of his contributions came from PACs.
Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) — 79% funded by corporate PACs ($1,551,995)
Rep. Brett Guthrie served at the Vice Chair of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health in the last session of Congress and is likely to be a top Republican on the subcommittee in the current session. His campaign for re-election in 2018 was heavily funded by the health industry, with PACs representing health professionals contributing $258,230 and PACs representing pharmaceuticals and health products companies chipping in another $214,150. Many of his top PAC contributors were from the health industry, including Blue Cross Blue Shield and its affiliates ($12,500), Delta Dental ($10,000), Amgen ($10,000) and AmerisourceBergen ($8,000).
Less than 2.5 percent of the nearly $1.97 million Guthrie raised for his last re-election campaign came from small donors giving $200 or less.
Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) — 74.6% funded by corporate PACs ($1,324,628)
The House Democrat with the most reliance on corporate PACs, Rep. Terri Sewell of Alabama’s 7th Congressional District is a member of the most powerful committee in the House, the Ways and Means Committee, which writes legislation on taxes and revenue-related aspects of the Social Security system, including Medicare. During the last election cycle, Sewell’s top donor industries were insurance, securities and investments, and commercial banks. She received large contributions from PACs representing corporations in a wide range of industries, including Blue Cross Blue Shield and its affiliates ($14,000), AT&T ($10,000), Morgan Stanley ($10,000) and Lockheed Martin ($10,000).
Sewell received just $15,196 from small individual donors giving $200 or less, or 0.86% of her overall fundraising haul.
Ron Kind (D-Wis.)— 73.4% funded by corporate PACs ($1,683,793)
House Ways and Means Committee member Ron Kind, who is Chair Emeritus of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, took large PAC contributions from several health insurance companies last cycle, including Blue Cross Blue Shield and affiliates ($19,500), MetLife ($11,000), and Humana ($10,000). In November, following the midterm election, Kind told The Hill that he did not want the House to vote on a “Medicare for All” single-payer health care system because it would not pass the Republican-controlled Senate. Besides the insurance industry, Kind has taken large sums of PAC money from a wide range of industries, including from Target ($10,000), Deloitte ($10,000) and Verizon ($7,500).
JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER
Muckraking journalism, delivered to you
Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) — 72.6% funded by corporate PACs ($1,682,228)
In the last session of Congress, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer was Chairman of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit, and he’s expected to remain the top-ranking Republican on that subcommittee this session. The subcommittee has jurisdiction over all of the financial regulators and handles legislation affecting credit, financial consumer protections, and the general safety and soundness of the banking industry.
The top PAC donors to his recent re-election campaign are all in the financial industry, including U.S. Bancorp and its subsidiary, U.S. Bank ($14,000) and the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation ($10,650). Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation PAC appears to have given Luetkemeyer $650 beyond the legal maximum in the last election cycle. Other financial industry PACs that maxed out to Luetkemeyer in the 2018 election include the American Bankers Association ($10,000), Citigroup ($10,000), Goldman Sachs ($10,000) and Wells Fargo ($10,000).
According to OpenSecrets, Luetkemeyer received more money from the commercial banking industry in the 2018 cycle than any other member of the House. He didn’t do as well with small donors, bringing in just $33,321, or 1.44 percent of his overall haul, from individuals giving $200 or less.
James Clyburn (D-S.C.) — 72% funded by corporate PACs ($1,428,608)
As House Majority Whip, Rep. James Clyburn’s job is to round up the votes to pass legislation supported by the Democratic leadership. Clyburn has been the third-ranking Democrat in the House behind Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer since 2007, and his re-election campaigns have been consistently funded in large part by contributions from the PACs of major American corporations from nearly private every sector of the economy. In the 2018 cycle, he took $11,500 from PACs related to AT&T and its affiliates, and the legal maximum of $10,000 from dozens more corporate PACs, including those affiliated with Pfizer, American Crystal Sugar, Comcast, Duke Energy, and Raytheon.
In contrast to Clyburn’s deep support from maxed out corporate PACs, he doesn’t pull in much campaign money from small donors. In the 2018 cycle, just 2.1 percent of his fundraising total came from donors giving $200 or less.
Sam Graves (R-Mo.) — 71.8% funded by corporate PACs ($1,215,020)
Sam Graves is the Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over all modes of transportation, including highways, railroads and pipelines. Perhaps not surprisingly, his campaigns have been heavily funded by various transportation industry interests, which in the last cycle included maxed out contributions of $10,000 from the airline industry’s chief trade association, Airlines for America, Delta Airlines, CSX, Ford Motor Company, and the National Auto Dealers Association. Graves is also a member of the House Committee on Armed Services, and his 2018 campaign received funding from many military contractors, including the PACs of Northrop Grumman and its affiliates ($20,000), General ATomics ($10,000) and Raytheon ($10,000).
Like the other corporate-PAC reliant members on this list, Graves complements his strong support from corporate PACs with lackluster fundraising from small donors. In the 2018 cycle, small donors giving $200 or less provided just 1.14 percent of Graves’ overall campaign funding.
Richard Neal (D-Mass.) — 71.7% funded by corporate PACs ($2,501,791)
In the 2018 cycle, Richard Neal faced a strong progressive primary challenger for the first time in years. His challenger, Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, rejected all contributions from corporate PACs and instead relied on individuals to fund her campaign. Neal, on the other hand, defended his PAC fundraising and pulled in more than $2.5 million from corporations and corporate trade groups through their PACs.
In the 116th Congress, Neal serves as the Chairman of the most powerful committee in the House, the tax code-writing Ways and Means Committee. In that role, Neal could force a vote on legislation aimed at stopping corporate offshore tax evasion, which is something he has repeatedly said that he supports. As Sludge previously reported, Neal has failed to make any progress on the issue while taking contributions from the PACs of some of the worst offenders, including, in the 2018 cycle, from Caterpillar ($10,000), Honeywell ($10,000), Bank of America ($10,000), and General Electric ($9,000). Neal’s top donor industries are insurance, pharmaceuticals, and health professionals, all industries that would have a lot at stake if the Ways and Means Committee were to take up single-payer health care legislation. Neal has stated that he prefers a more incremental approach to health care reform, likely pleasing his 2018 corporate PAC donors in the health industry, like Blue Cross Blue Shield and affiliates ($22,500), Aetna ($10,000), and Merck ($10,000).
Neal pulled in nearly $3.5 million for his 2018 campaign, his highest total for a single election cycle by far. Just 0.71 percent, or $24,884, of that funding came from small donors giving $200 or less.
Do you value our independent journalism?
Every day, the reporters at Sludge are relentlessly following the money to reveal the hidden networks and conflicts of interest that drive political corruption. We are 100% ad-free and reader supported, so we’re counting on our readers to help us continue calling out powerful politicians and lobbyists. If you appreciate the work we do, please consider becoming a member for $5 a month to support our investigative journalism. We can’t do this work without your support.