Ears of Cornyn

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When big donors talk, Senators listen. And when the new Senate Minority Whip, Texan John Cornyn, talks, he has the full attention of Capitol Hill. In recent days Cornyn was one of three Senators to vote against John Kerry’s nomination for Secretary of State, has announced his opposition to Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, sounded doubtful about immigration reform, and toed the National Rifle Association line on gun control at a Judiciary Committee hearing. None of these positions is particularly surprising for someone the National Journal once declared tied for the most conservative member of Congress.

Since his election to Congress in 2002, Cornyn, ranking minority member of the Senate Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure, has received nearly two million bucks from oil and gas companies. About $100,000 came from his top donor, Bass Brothers Enterprises — the Fort Worth oil family, not Eminem’s record producers. Irving-based oil and gas corporation ExxonMobil, the world’s largest company by revenue, ranked second with $84,600. Houston’s oil transporters, Kirby Corp., donated just over $50,000, as did Fort Worth-based coal- and grain-carrying railroad BNSF.

The only industry donating more to Cornyn than the energy sector was the legal sector. Among them, Dallas-based law firms Haynes and Boone and Locke, Liddel & Sapp (now Locke Lord) were Cornyn’s third and fourth largest donors; Houston’s Baker Botts was tenth; and Texas-based law firm Jackson Walker LLP was 20th.

Many of Cornyn’s donors call Texas home, or at least headquarters. San Antonio’s Zachry Construction was his seventh biggest donor, and financial corporation USAA was eighth. Also funding his campaigns were Contran Corporation (ninth), owned by conservative billionaire and superPAC superfunder Harold Simmons; Texas beer distributors L&F Distributors (11th); San Antonio radio conglomerate Clear Channel Communications (15th); Dallas home builders Centex (16th); El Paso real estate company Hunt Companies (17th); Corpus Christi’s Sam Kane Beef Processors (18th).

Rounding out Cornyn’s top twenty list are financial megafirm JPMorgan Chase (fifth); AT&T (sixth), the third-largest company in Texas; Pentagon sweetheart Lockheed Martin (14th); and accounting giant Ernst & Young (19th).

Cornyn will undoubtedly feature prominently in February’s budget negotiations. He took a starring role during the January debt ceiling showdown, and already this month he’s looked into the “Galveston Plan” for privatizing Social Security.