barbara mikulski picture

The coming sequester is personal. No doubt it will feel that way to many more of you very soon, but to those who work in scientific research (or worked, as I did, and hope to again) it has hit already. Grant funding was cut sharply last year in anticipation of the sequester, and it been dwindling steadily long before that. As Jocelyn Kaiser of Science Insider reported:

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a key supporter in Congress yesterday warned about the damage to biomedical research if $85 billion in automatic cuts to all federal agencies go into effect on 1 March. NIH Director Francis Collins and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said the so-called sequestration would slow scientific progress, delay clinical trials, and put a generation of young researchers at risk if NIH’s $31 billion budget for this year is trimmed by $1.5 billion.


If the sequester kicks in, NIH’s success rate could drop from the current rate of about 17% to 18%—half what it was in the 1980s—to as low as 15%, squeezing biomedical labs further and forcing them to hire even fewer young scientists, [Johns Hopkins Professor and Nobelist Carol] Greider noted. “This group is in jeopardy today,” she said. Collins echoed her concern: “If we lose the talents of this up-and-coming generation … they’re not coming back,” he said.

As chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, Mikulski possesses a great deal of influence in determining where discretionary funds get spent — except when, as will occur with the March 1 sequester, the law requires proportional cuts to all budget items without discretion. As Congress will soon deal with the impact of the sequester, with the looming debt ceiling conflict, and with the overall 2014 budget battle, I decided to look at which campaign contributors might have the Senator’s ear.

Mikulski’s number one donor, giving an eighth of a million dollars to the Senator since 1989, was EMILY’s List, the political action committee dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to office. Unions, another reliable source of funds for Democrats, gave significant amounts to her as well. The American Postal Workers Union (15th), government workers’ union AFSCME (17th), and the Sheet Metal Workers’ Union (18th) all appeared on Mikulski’s list.

Military contractors contribute copiously to the Senator from Maryland, who sits on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Northrop Grumman, her second largest donor, has put over $90,000 in her war chest. Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin ranked sixth with nearly $65,000. Missile specialists Raytheon (11th), bomb builders Honeywell (12th) and satellite launchers Orbital Sciences Corporation (13th) each gave her around $42,000. Aircraft providers Boeing (20th) dropped in nearly $40,000 as well.

Many of Mikulski’s major donors come from her home state of Maryland. Baltimore research university Johns Hopkins ranked third on her list, while power plant operators Constellation Energy, which runs Baltimore Gas & Electric, came in ninth. But it is the legal industry which gives the most to Mikulski, and Maryland lawyers figure prominently on her list. DC lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Associates (fourth); Baltimore-based class action litigators at the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos (fifth); the largest law firm in the world, DLA Piper (seventh); Venable LLP (eighth), the biggest law firm in Baltimore; and trial lawyers’ lobbying group the American Association for Justice (16th).

Rounding out Mikulski’s list: Detroit automaker General Motors (tenth); Cleveland real estate developers Forest City Enterprises (14th); and the largest trade association in the country, the Realtors (19th).