Jim Inhofe

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The axe is about to fall in Washington DC, and as tomorrow’s budget sequester rapidly approaches, many Senators are looking for agreement on a way to soften its impact. Laura Litvan and Brian Faler of Bloomberg report:

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma will introduce this week a measure that would let military service chiefs move around funds within the Pentagon’s budget this fiscal year, according to his spokeswoman, Donelle Harder.

Beginning March 1, the government faces $85 billion in across-the-board cuts over seven months — half of it from defense — unless President Barack Obama and Congress agree on an alternative.

“It buys time for a better fix” for the cuts, Harder said of Inhofe’s proposal. Lawmakers in his party are seeking an elusive consensus on how to deal with the reductions, known as sequestration.

Inhofe’s measure, to be co-sponsored by Senator Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, also would provide flexibility this fiscal year to domestic agencies facing cuts.
Inhofe’s proposal faces opposition from Republicans on the defense panel, including Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. They back an alternative introduced by Ayotte that would delay sequestration for one year by requiring a 10 percent reduction in federal personnel through attrition and a pay freeze for lawmakers.

With Inhofe in the news this week, I decided to look at some of his major campaign contributors using OpenSecrets.org.

Inhofe’s top donor was Koch Industries, the Kansas multinational with interests in petroleum, chemical, fiber, finance and many other areas. Run by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, the corporation has poured billions into fighting the regulation of energy and financial derivatives; they’ve contributed nearly $100,000 to Inhofe. Likewise Murray Energy (second), a coal mining corporation run by Robert E. Murray, lobbies frequently against mining regulations; it has contributed $66,000 to global warming denier Inhofe. Inhofe has also received numerous donations from oil and gas companies such as ConocoPhillips (11th), Oklahoma City’s Devon Energy (16th), and Chevron (19th); as well as fossil fuel users like the United Parcel Service (fifth), the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (15th), the National Automobile Dealers Association (17th), and railroaders Union Pacific (20th).

Inhofe, a licensed commercial pilot who’s had run-ins with the Federal Aviation Administration, had funds dropped into his campaign from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (third) and Fort Worth, Texas, based American Airlines (fourth).

The Senator gets funds from several professional trade associations: the National Association of Realtors (sixth); the American Medical Association (eighth); the Associated General Contractors of America (12th); the National Beer Wholesalers Association (13th); and the American Bankers Association (18th).

Rounding out his top-twenty list are the National Rifle Association (seventh); telecom multinational AT&T (ninth); a business called Golden Rule Financial (tenth); and military and aerospace contractor Lockheed Martin (14th).

It’s news: Toomey

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Can you whittle with a hatchet? Billions of dollars of indiscriminate federal budget cuts are scheduled to take effect Friday, but Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey and Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe will offer a Republican alternative bill to modify the March 1 sequester. According to Robert J. Vickers of the Patriot-News:

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey will introduce legislation as soon as Wednesday to soften the harsh, congressionally mandated spending cuts slated to be applied at the end of the week.

The bill would give President Barack Obama the authority to determine how the cuts will be applied in each department, rather than the mandated across-the-board approach dictated in the so-called “sequester,” Toomey told a handful of Pennsylvania reporters in a conference call late Tuesday afternoon.

“We need to preserve the magnitude of the cuts, but almost everybody agrees we’d be better off if they were done differently,” he said. “The problem with [across-the-board cuts] is it gives no discretion to the managers or the administration to determine which of the programs has greater urgency than another.”

The proposal would also retain Congress’s ability to reject the president’s prioritization of the cuts, he added.

Since Toomey’s in the news, I decided to look at his list of top donors on OpenSecrets.org. His biggest donor by far was the conservative anti-tax 501(c)4 organization the Club for Growth, which has given its former president $860,000 since 1998, almost as much as the other nineteen of his top twenty donors combined. Toomey accepted leadership of the group following his narrow 2004 Republican primary loss to former Senator Alan Specter, which the club had backed financially. Other conservative issue groups backing him included Senator Jim DeMint’s political action committee theSenate Conservatives Fund (fifth), giving $61,500, and the billionaires at Crow Holdings (16th) and Koch Industries (20th), each giving over $30,000.

“Too big to fail” banks and hedge funds invest heavily in Toomey. Elliott Management, a “vulture fund” firm that works primarily with distressed debt investments, ranked second on the Senator’s list with $115,000, while hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors (sixth) gave $46,000. Two of the Big Four banksJPMorgan Chase (seventh) Bank of America (eighth) — deposited over $40,000 in his accounts, as did professional trade group the American Bankers Association (ninth). Pittsburgh-based hedge fund Federated Investors (15th) and financial services corporation Morgan Stanley (19th) each pitched in over $30,000.

Professional trade associations look favorably on Toomey as well. He’s received significant donations from anti-union construction group the Associated Builders and Contractors (tenth), the National Restaurant Association (12th), the National Federation of Independent Business (17th), and accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers (18th).

Other big contributors to the Pennsylvania Senator are Allentown businesses Air Products & Chemicals (third) and electric utility PPL (fourth); Mechanicsburg health care company Select Medical (11th); Philadelphia ammunition manufacturers Day & Zimmermann (13th); and Exelon (14th), an energy company with several nuclear and fossil fuel plants in Pennsylvania and other states.

Money to Coburn

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The budgetary axe falls on the first of March, and the headsmen sound regretful. Writes David Kerley of ABC News’s “The Note”:

Believe it or not, there is some bipartisan agreement in Washington, D.C. The problem is Republicans and Democrats agree those automatic spending cuts known as the “sequester” will probably start on Friday, the deadline for a budget agreement.

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The cuts set to be triggered on Friday will range from 5 percent to 7 percent for most government departments. They will be phased in over the next six months. Workers, who may be furloughed for up to three weeks, will get 30 days warning before they must stay home.

The battle now isn’t how to avoid the sequester, once considered so drastic that lawmakers would be forced to negotiate an alternative; it’s how and where to apportion the blame. Some Senators, such as Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) have already hit the talk shows to begin the spin. Lindsey Boerma of CBS News reported Sunday:

“The crisis is made up – it’s been created,” Coburn continued. “We see all these claims about what a tragedy it’s going to be. The great example is, is if the secretary of transportation can assure us all the planes are going to be safe, then the Department of Homeland Security can assure us that we can get through the airports on time. They have plenty of flexibility in terms of discretion on how they spend money.”

Though he said he didn’t support the cuts, scheduled during the debt ceiling debate in 2011, because “that’s a stupid way to cut spending,” Coburn said sequestration may be “the only way Washington, Republicans and Democrats are ever going to get out of both parties some spending cuts.” The president’s idea to replace the sequester with a package that balances spending cuts and revenue through tax hikes, he said, is a “straw man” setup.

Coburn, the ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, oversees the budgets of the DHS and the federal civil service as a whole. As he’s likely to be in the news more in the coming weeks, I thought it time to look at who he receives his campaign funds from.

Coburn’s top donor is conservative anti-tax 501(c) group the Club for Growth, which has given him over $65,000 since 1994. He’s also received significant funds from other conservative issue donors such as energy billionaires Koch Industries (sixth) and Senator Saxby Chambliss’s political action committee the Republican Majority Fund (ninth).

An obstetrician who once worked for his father, a prominent optician, Senator Coburn has accepted numerous donations from medical practitioners. The American Society of Anesthesiologists (fourth) and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (fifth) each gave him nearly $40,000. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (seventh), the American Medical Association (eighth), Oklahoma City’s Neuroscience Specialists (11th), and the American Dental Association (15th) all injected funds into the Senator’s campaigns.

Various trade associations figure prominently on Coburn’s list. The National Auto Dealers Association (tenth), the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors (12th), the National Beer Wholesalers Association (13th), the National Federation of Independent Business (16th), the largest trade group of them all, the National Association of Realtors (18th), and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (20th) have backed the highly conservative Oklahoman.

Other prominent contributors to Coburn include Cummins-American Corp. (third), an Illinois firm specializing in money-sorting equipment for banks, automatic vendors and the like; humungous telecom multinational AT&T (second); Swiss investment bank UBS (14th); and Texas-based oil and gas companies ConocoPhilips (17th) and Andarko Petroleum (19th).

OpenMikulski

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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.

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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).