Listing to Portman

rob portman picture

The Grand Bargain marches ever onward. Lindsey Boerma of CBS News reports:

Republicans would be willing to tender more revenue in a deal to replace the sequester, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said today on “Face the Nation,” if President Obama showed willingness to make “structural changes” to entitlement programs.

Part of Congress’s bipartisan supercommittee tasked with crafting a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion, Portman said he and his colleagues came “very close” to striking a “balanced” compromise that partnered spending cuts with revenue to replace the blind, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration before they went into effect March 1. “The problem,” he said, was that Democrats’ proposal to generate revenue fell back on tax hikes, two months after the so-called “fiscal cliff” package upped income taxes on families making more than $450,000 a year.

“We had tax reforms [in the failed plan], which helps grow the economy,” Portman said.

Portman’s statement makes the distinction between “tax reforms” — lowering corporate tax rates while removing loopholes are the reforms currently under discussion — and tax increases, and the Obama Administration has more than once signaled its desire for tax reforms as well. And “structural changes” to entitlements frequently refers to cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid effected by altering the cost-of-living formulas, another approach the Administration has said it is willing to agree to. The difficulty both parties face is getting their members and voters to embrace the betrayals of principle the eventual agreement would require.

The one obvious winner in such a deal would be large corporations, whose taxes would be cut and who could subsequently lobby to restore any loopholes temporarily suspended. Perhaps not surprisingly, Portman, a Finance Committee member and former Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under George W. Bush, takes in plenty of campaign contributions from Ohio Republican billionaire investors. Portman’s number one contributor was the Cincinnati insurance and investment company American Financial Group (AFG). Until his death in 2011, Carl Lindner, Jr. owned and ran AFG; he was one of the richest people in the world and a prominent Republican donor, with AFG giving Portman alone over a quarter million dollars. (Lindner’s ice cream company United Dairy Farmers also gave $55,000, ranking 17th.) AFG’s legal representatives, Cincinnati firm Keating Muething & Kleklamp (KMK) ranked 12th. (One of its founding partners, Charles Keating, Jr., later served several years in jail as part of the Keating Five savings and loan scandal.) “Vulture fund” Elliott Management, an investment bank dealing with “distressed debt”, ranked third on Portman’s list, giving $115,000; its founder and CEO Paul Singer is another major Republican contributor. Likewise Mercer Reynolds of investment firm Reynolds, DeWitt & Co. (18th with $54,000) was George W. Bush’s campaign finance chair.

Investment and professional service corporations outside Ohio also look kindly on Portman. These include mutual fund mammoth FMR Corp. (Fidelity) (sixth), “Big Four” banking giants Citigroup (ninth) and JPMorgan Chase (11th), insurance multinational MetLife (tenth), and Edward Jones Investments (15th). Accounting firm Ernst & Young (seventh) and the world’s largest advertising company WPP Group (14th) also made large donations.

Many of his donors come from in-state, however. Cincinnati-based purveyors of pet food and personal care products Procter & Gamble (second) plunked down $179,000 for Portman, while Cincinnati laundry company and KMK client Cintas Corp. (eighth) may well clean up the sheets, towels and uniforms manufactured and distributed by Standard Textile (16th). Cleveland-based legal practice Squire Sanders (fourth), for whom Portman worked after resigning as George W. Bush’s OMB director, gave him over $100,000. Ohio’s main corporate law firm Thomspon Hine (13th), and Ohio-based BakerHostetler (20th).

Other contributors to Portman include the third-largest company in the world, General Electric (fifth) and real estate developers North American Properties (19th).

Brown’s gold

sherrod brown caricature

“You can bank on it.” Once that meant reliable, trustworthy. After the financial crisis and near collapse of 2008, who knows? There are efforts afoot in Congress to restore oversight to a criminally risky financial sector, though whether they have the Obama Administration’s blessing remains questionable. One of the foremost proponents of re-regulation is Senator Sherrod Brown. As Bloomberg‘s Craig Torres and Cheyenne Hopkins recently reported:

“‘[T]oo big to fail’ banks are also too big to manage and too big to regulate,” Brown, an Ohio Democrat, said in a Jan. 22 e-mail. “The question is no longer about whether these megabanks should be restructured, but how we should do it.”

Brown and fellow Banking Committee member David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, are considering legislation that would impose capital levels on the largest banks higher than those agreed to by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and the Financial Stability Board, which set global standards. Brown also plans to reintroduce a bill he failed to get included in Dodd-Frank or passed in the last Congress that would cap bank size and limit non-deposit liabilities.

Given his seats on the Banking and the Finance Committees, it’s worthwhile to look at who Brown’s most prominent contributors are. Interestingly, none of the investment banks who feature prominently on many other Senators’ lists make his top twenty (though he has received $2.7 million from the combined areas of finance, insurance and real estate.)

Several of Brown’s biggest donors come from his home state of Ohio. Cleveland-based real estate developers Forest City Enterprises topped Brown’s list, contributing nearly an eighth of a million dollars since 1992; and both Ohio State University (fifth) in Columbus and Akron electric utility FirstEnergy (20th) made significant contributions to Brown’s campaigns.

Brown also rakes in a lot of donations from Ohio lawyers; the legal industry gives more to the Senator — over three million bucks so far — than any other group. Along with trial lawyers’ lobbying organization the American Association for Justice (fourth), Brown received significant donations from Sandusky, Ohio, personal injury lawyers Murray & Murray (seventh); Cleveland business law firms Kohrman Jackson & Krantz (ninth) and Squire Sanders (12th); and Columbus lobbyists Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease (17th).

Nationally, labor unions work hard to fill Brown’s campaign war chest. The Senator has rung up nearly an eighth of a million from his second largest donor, the Communication Workers of America, which represents telephone company employees. He’s also received copious contributions from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (sixth); the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (eighth); public employees’ union AFSCME (tenth); and the United Auto Workers (13th).

Health professionals provided more money to Brown than any industry save lawyers. He’s received a helping hand from manufacturers of wheelchairs and walkers Invacare (third); the American Academy of Ophthalmology (14th); world-famous hospital the Cleveland Clinic (15th); professional organization the American Hospital Association (16th); and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (18th).

Completing Brown’s top twenty list are accounting heavyweights Deloitte (11th) and arms control advocates the Council for a Livable World (19th).


Caricature of Sherrod Brown by DonkeyHotey.