Corporate Donations Shift to Democrats Corporate America, sensing the direction of the political winds this year, is beginning to donate more money to Democratic candidates.
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Corporate Donations Shift to Democrats

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Corporate Donations Shift to Democrats

Corporate Donations Shift to Democrats

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Coming up, a new call for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation. But first, one more item from the campaign trail.

Since the mid-1990s, Republicans in Congress have had a simple message for corporate political action committees: stop giving money to Democrats.

Now Democrats may be on their way back to power and the GOP message may not be working so well.

NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: A few quick snapshots from the political money trail. Last December, MGM Mirage Casinos gave a political action committee contribution to Republican Congressman Jerry Weller. He's an influential member of the Ways and Means Committee.

This past July, another big casino operator, Harrah's Entertainment, gave a PAC check to Republican Jim McCrery, another big gun on Ways and Means. Then, just last month, Democrat Charles Rangel made a swing through Las Vegas, and with Election Day looming, Harrah's and MGM Mirage gave to his campaign. Terry Lanni, the chief executive of MGM Mirage, hosted the reception. If Democrats win a majority of seats in Tuesday's elections, Rangel will chair Ways and Means.

Alan Siegler(ph) follows congressional campaign money as a political scientist at the University of Kansas.

Mr. ALAN SIEGLER (University of Kansas): Basically, we've been through a period here where some of the Republican leadership was telling the various interests, if you don't play ball with us and with us only, we're not going to help you out. And I think interested money, seeing a change in political fortunes, are going to go back to the old way of doing things.

OVERBY: The old way, of course, was to spread the money around to both parties. When Republicans took charge of Congress, they set out to change that. This was the K Street Project. K Street is Washington shorthand for all the lobbyists. Led by Tom DeLay, then the House Majority Whip, Republicans told corporate PACs and lobbyists to stop donating to Democrats. It had an impact. This year, about two-thirds of corporate PAC money has been going to Republicans. That was true as recently as September, according to Federal Election Commission data analyzed for NPR.

At the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Sarah Feinberg says Democrats went looking elsewhere for money and found plenty of it.

Ms. SARAH FEINBERG (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee): We were having a record fundraising cycle long before the last few months, when pundits and handicappers decided to start saying that Democrats may win the House back.

OVERBY: And now there are signs that corporate America is starting to rethink its political money strategies. Charlie Rangel's trip to Las Vegas is one example. Another is the uptick, just in the last few weeks, in corporate PAC donations to top Democrats. The beneficiaries include House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who's eying the Speaker's chair; potential committee chairs too, such as Barney Frank at the Financial Services Committee. He got a check last month from the American Financial Services Association.

Bill Himpler is the association's vice president for Federal Affairs.

Mr. BILL HIMPLER (American Financial Services Association): You're going to have slim margins either way. And whether he's chairman or ranking member, I believe that he is going to work with colleagues across the aisle in order to move effective legislation.

OVERBY: A Democratic lobbyist, speaking anonymously so as not to embarrass any donors or recipients, dismisses this last minute money. He calls it just money being thrown at them, not very sophisticated. What's more significant, he says, is money now going to rank and file Democrats. Take John Tanner, another Ways and Means member. He got checks in early October from 10 corporate PACs that hadn't given previously.

The hard numbers behind this apparent trend won't be seen till after Election Day. And then it will be time for a new wave of money: the contributions to winners from shameless donors who hadn't bet on them before.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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