Lobbyists are Sen. Murray's biggest donors
In the years after Patty Murray first won her U.S. Senate seat in 1992, she received some of her biggest political contributions from women's groups and PACs supporting Israel. Today, in a transformation that attests to the power of incumbency, lobbyists top the list of Murray's donor groups.
Seattle Times Washington Bureau
Political donationsFederal rules limit donations to candidates and political-action committees (PACs).
• An individual can give a candidate a maximum of $2,400 per election, for a total of $4,800 for the primary- and general-election campaigns.
• PACs can give a candidate up to $5,000 per election.
• The limit on donations to a leadership PAC is $5,000 per calendar year.
WASHINGTON — In the years after Patty Murray first won her U.S. Senate seat in 1992, she received some of her biggest political contributions from women's groups and people supporting Israel.
Today lobbyists top the list of Murray's donors as she seeks her fourth term.
Among the top six Democrats in the Senate leadership, only Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has collected more money than Murray from lobbyists and their firms since 2005, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that tracks money and politics. Yet even Reid receives a smaller share of his overall donations from lobbyists than Murray does.
What's more, Murray's congressional colleagues now rank among her biggest financial supporters. She has received $287,700 since 2005 from "leadership" PACs, a popular but controversial vehicle for members of Congress to solicit donations that they then dole out to fellow lawmakers.
It's a striking transformation for a woman whose annual Seattle fundraiser is called the "Golden Tennis Shoes Awards," a winking homage to the footwear that defined the early underdog status of the Bothell "mom in tennis shoes." And the lobbyist donations attest to the power of incumbency — even in a year when incumbency appears ripe for voter backlash.
Murray's spokeswoman, Alex Glass, said 85 percent of the 65,000 contributions the senator has received during the current election cycle came from her home state and averaged $39. The Center for Responsive Politics tracks only contributions over $200, which typically out-total the smaller donations.
"These are hardworking Washington state residents who like the job she's doing," Glass said.
Meredith McGehee, policy director for nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, a public-interest group working for campaign-finance and ethics reform, said Murray "is not much different from any other establishment candidate."
The shift in Murray's donor base, McGehee said, reflects the fact that raising vast sums from special interests has become a prerequisite for victory in federal elections.
"It's a heck of a way to run a railroad," McGehee said. "The system itself is corrupting, but it's almost impossible to win without participating in it."
Since winning her third term in 2004, Murray has taken in more than $11 million for her re-election coffers. She has $6 million of it left on hand. Her top Republican challenger, Dino Rossi, officially entered the race in late May and says he raised $600,000 in the first six days. Since then, his campaign has declined to release new fundraising totals.
Murray's "Golden Tennis Shoes" fundraiser last month at the Washington State Convention Center drew 1,100 supporters and was co-hosted by Vicki Kennedy, widow of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. The brunch raised $280,000.
Friends with agendas
Since 2005, lobbyists — who by definition are donors with an agenda — and their firms have given nearly $605,000 for Murray's re-election and to M-PAC, her leadership political-action committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
That's more than any other single source and is a big jump from during Murray's first term, when lobbyists ranked No. 20 among industries and sectors that donated to her campaign. She didn't have her PAC at that time.
For all members of Congress, lobbyists rank No. 8 in contributions in the current election cycle, the center's data show.
These tallies are based on contribution reports available from the Federal Election Commission as of June 13, and will change as the campaign season progresses. Fundraising totals for the quarter ending last month are due July 15.
Many powerful members of Congress are magnets for interest groups. Contributions from lawyers, defense contractors, major corporations and PACs can collectively dwarf modest checks sent in by voters.
But the sheer concentration of Murray's contributions from lobbyists warrants watching, said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington, D.C., government watchdog.
When lobbyists donate to a politician, Ellis said, "they are essentially investing in gaining access."
Murray is one of only four people to sit on both the Senate budget and appropriations committees, and thus has critical sway on which programs should — and actually will — get funded. More directly, Murray chairs two subcommittees, including one that oversees spending on roads and housing.
She deployed her clout in May when she inserted $44 million in the federal supplemental budget for repairs to the Howard Hanson Dam, which was weakened by a January 2009 storm and has left the Green River Valley more vulnerable to flooding.
Murray also has been a dogged supporter of Boeing's operations in Washington state. She recently introduced a bill that seeks to penalize the European parent company of Airbus for receiving government subsidies. The company is competing against Boeing for a $50 billion Air Force air-refueling tanker order.
Recently, Boeing has given more generously to Murray than to anyone in the U.S. Senate or House. Under campaign-finance rules, companies can't contribute directly to a candidate. But according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Boeing executives, employees and its PAC have contributed $53,550 to Murray since 2009.
She has taken in nearly twice as much money as the next-highest recipient, Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, where Boeing is the state's largest employer. In fact, Murray is the No. 1 congressional beneficiary of campaign contributions from the entire air-transport industry.
One donor was Tim Keating, Boeing's senior vice president of government operations. Keating donated $2,400 to Murray in April 2009, shortly after the company privately briefed her that it likely would locate a second assembly line for the 787 Dreamliner in Charleston, S.C., instead of in Everett.
Two months later, Keating gave Murray another $2,400. In October, Boeing announced Charleston as its pick. A furious Murray threatened to withhold her support for any Boeing projects beyond Washington's borders.
Under federal rules, an individual can give a candidate a maximum of $2,400 per election, for a total of $4,800 for the primary- and general-election campaigns.
Microsoft is Murray's top donor by contributor; its executives, employees and its PAC have given $131,000 since 2005 to Murray's campaign and to M-PAC. The company just edged out the No. 2 contributor, ActBlue, a political-action committee that bundles individual donations to Democratic candidates.
Top lobbyist donors
On Murray's list of top-10 contributors are two lobbying firms. Employees at Denny Miller Associates of Washington, D.C., have given $84,200 since 2005. Miller lobbies on behalf of a wide range of clients in Washington state, including Boeing, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and Swedish Medical Center, as well as defense contractors.
The other firm is McBee Strategic Consulting, whose founder, Steve McBee, once worked for U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton. The firm's president of Northwest operations is Rick Desimone, Murray's former chief of staff. McBee has given $58,600 since 2005 to Murray's campaign and to her PAC.
M-PAC is the 16th-largest leadership PAC in the Senate, with $435,000 in contributions between January 2009 and April 2010.
Murray has dipped into M-PAC to support a host of Democratic candidates and groups. Recipients include Reid, the Senate majority leader; Senate Policy Chairman Sen. Byron Dorgan; and the political-action committee of Planned Parenthood.
Murray's Washington state colleague in the Senate, Maria Cantwell, is one of 13 senators who do not operate a leadership PAC.
McGehee, the campaign-finance expert, believes that leadership PACs represent influence peddling at its worst: Donors give to curry favors with a lawmaker, who for the same reason then funnels the money to fellow politicians.
Murray voted for the landmark 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill, which sought to regulate large contributions from corporations and unions to political organizations. She also is one of 47 co-sponsors of the DISCLOSE Act, a legislative counterattack to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned parts of McCain-Feingold.
McGehee, though she credits Murray's votes, faults her and many other Democrats for paying only lip service to curbing money's influence on politics.
Murray spokeswoman Glass said the only thing that sways Murray is the needs of Washington residents. And the biggest part of that job, Glass said, is bringing jobs and federal dollars home.
Seattle Times news researcher David Turim contributed to this report. Kyung Song: 202-662-7455 or email@example.com
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