Hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing from special interests to candidates, for what are usually pretty obvious reasons. Why would the coal industry support Rand Paul for the Senate in Kentucky? Why would Paul want their money? No mystery there. But there are a few gifts that raised my eyebrows.
BP, one might think, would be a pretty toxic political donor along the Gulf Coast. But that didn’t prevent Democratic Senate candidate Charlie Melancon from accepting $1,000 from his state’s public enemy number one. Nor was Alabama Republican Richard Shelby shy about taking BP’s cash.
Even odder are the giving patterns of GM’s newly reactivated PAC. Let’s begin with the obvious fact that GM, as a company that is still more than half owned by the federal government, shouldn’t be making PAC contributions at all, a point that has been repeatedly made. But clearly the Obama administration has been serious about being hands off in its management of the company and hasn’t prevented this stunning violation of any reasonable standard of ethics.
What’s weird though is to whom GM has chosen to give money. Yes, of course, $5,000 to Congressman John Dingell — his wife, after all, works for GM, and he has been a stalwart supporter of the company in good times and bad. But $5,000 (the maximum allowed) to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who routinely lambasts the federal government’s decision to keep GM alive? McConnell said last year that it was wrong to “ask the American taxpayer to subsidize failure.” And this isn’t just GM being evenhanded — no similar gift shows up for Majority Leader Harry Reid. Or look at Roy Blunt, who said of the GM rescue, “None of this is in line with my own free market principles” — but took $5,000 from the GM PAC anyway.
Dan Coats is another candidate to whom the GM PAC maxed out. Coats supported the GM bailout as a lobbyist in D.C., but he has campaigned against it in Indiana.
So leaving aside the ethical absurdity of a federally owned company reactivating its political action committee, you have to wonder whether the GM executives who decided to give money to McConnell, Blunt, and Coats were thinking of the company’s future interests at all. Or were they, as GM executives have long been accustomed to do, simply using the company’s resources to express their own personal ideological drift? It’s interesting to look at the individual donations from GM execs. Their contributions are almost exclusively to Republicans, and many are to the same anti-GM-rescue Republicans that the PAC backed. You have to wonder whether Bush’s former chief-of-staff, Andrew Card, who came to the White House from GM and then went back — is still perhaps calling the shots. Card’s one personal gift was to Rob Portman, the final GM PAC maxed-out Republican Senate candidate.