Durbin myths

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He’s a legendary lefty in the Senate — or what passes for one these days. Yet two years ago, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin voted in favor of the Bowles-Simpson proposal. Last November, calling the Illinois Democrat a “liberal hero”, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones trumpeted Durbin’s proposal for a new commission to cut Social Security. And just last weekend the Senator became chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, putting him in a highly influential position as Congress and the Administration negotiate (and try to avoid) scheduled defense cuts. In all three cases, Durbin echoes President Obama’s yearning for “balanced” deficit reduction — or “shared sacrifice”, as the nation’s budgetary high priests refer to it.

Considering the outsized influence the senator will have on the budget process in the coming months, I decided to check out who his major campaign donors have been. Durbin, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, received over four million dollars in campaign donations from lawyers and law firms since 1989, according to OpenSecrets.org. Durbin’s top donors, Illinois law firms Kirkland & Ellis and Simmons Cooper LLC each donated an eighth of a million. Chicago trial lawyers Corboy & Demetrio, Jenner & Block, Mayer Brown, Clifford Law Offices, and corporate law firm Sidley Austin each donated $66,000 — $77,000, while Boston law fim Thornton Naumes gave him $59,500.

Durbin sits as well on the Transportation Subcommittee, which has oversight over the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board. Perhaps coincidentally, his third and fourth largest donors were American Airlines parent company the AMR Corporation and United Continental Holdings, which owns United Airlines.

Durbin’s also a member of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee, and unions make up another large contingent of his donors. Workers for the State of Illinois gave him nearly $80,000, while about $60,000 each came from the National Education Association (his 13th largest donor), the Air Line Pilots Association (14th), the Laborers’ Union (19th), and the United Transportation Union (20th).

Other large donors include the Chicago Board of Trade commodities market (ninth), gargantuan agribusiness corporation Archer Daniels Midland of Decatur (12th), telecom multinational AT&T (15th), financial octopus Citigroup (17th), and the WPP Group, the world’s largest advertisers (18th). Investment groups, second only to law firms in his industry donor list, gave the Appropriations Committee member over a million bucks altogether.

As chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Durbin will exercise control over half the nation’s discretionary budget. He’ll be choosing what and whom to sacrifice — and whether to run for re-election in 2014, in which case he’ll need to keep in his donors’ good graces. According to Chicago’s Greg Hinz, Durbin said in November:

“I’m planning to run for re-election, but I haven’t made a final decision,” the Illinois Democrat told me in a phone interview late yesterday. Asked whether that means he’s leaning in favor or merely keeping his options open, he declined to elaborate, though he suggested his decision would come within “a few months.”

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