Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema stood out last year by holding up their party’s signature Build Back Better Act, a package of social spending and climate measures that would have raised taxes on large corporations and people making at least $10 million a year. Manchin eventually came out against it, saying that he “cannot vote to move forward on this mammoth piece of legislation,” while Sinema reportedly remains noncommittal on the bill after throwing up roadblocks to it last year. The two senators are key for passing the bill, which would require the support of every Senate Democrat.
Last year, as they stood in the way of President Biden’s domestic agenda, Manchin and Sinema’s campaigns received donations from Republican megadonors, including finance industry billionaires and fossil fuel industry executives, according to a Sludge review of FEC data from the nonprofit Code for Democracy.
Individual donors are capped in the amounts they can give to federal politicians and party groups, but contributions to joint fundraising committees can be much larger, and donations to super PACs that spend on influencing elections can be unlimited.
Former Pennsylvania State Senator Scott Wagner, a Republican millionaire who was defeated in the 2018 governor race by Tom Wolf, contributed $5,800 to Manchin on May 7. Listing his occupation as investor with KBS Capital, based in York, Pennsylvania, Wagner also donated $1.6 million last year to Jobs for Our Future, a super PAC backing a Pennsylvania candidate for Senate, Republican Jeff Bartos.
Michael Lynn Hodges, chair of Advance Financial based in Tennessee, donated $5,400 to Sinema on June 29 before giving $50,000 to the NRCC on July 23. Other than a 2019 donation to House Democrat David Scott of Georgia and donations to Sinema in 2017 and 2019, all of Hodges’ contributions in the past three cycles have been to Republican candidates.
Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of The Home Depot and a prominent Trump supporter, and his spouse donated a total of $21,600 to Manchin’s campaign and leadership PAC last year, and gave $11,600 to Sinema’s campaign, all on Dec. 31. Langone contributed $250,000 to Americans for Prosperity Action, the PAC of the Koch-network astroturf group for conservative causes, on Nov. 12.
Rance M. Sanders, CEO of medical real estate investment firm The Sanders Trust, donated $20,000 to the RNC on Oct. 20, then $1,500 to Sinema on Dec. 8, and the same amount to Manchin on Dec. 16. All of his other donations over the past three cycles have been to Republicans like Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Rick Scott of Florida, who last year objected to the Electoral College certification, despite over 60 lawsuits on the challenges having failed as of this writing.
Take Back the House 2022 is a joint fundraising committee whose website prominently features House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and which sent nearly $43 million to scores of GOP beneficiaries as of the end of last year, including Electoral College objectors like freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina. The PAC has received six-figure donations from several billionaires who donated to Manchin or Sinema’s campaigns in 2021:
- Jeffrey Hildebrand, founder of oil exploration company Hilcorp Energy, who gave $250,000
- The Home Depot’s Langone, who gave $100,000
- Jimmy and Susan “Dee” Haslam, businesspeople and co-owners of truck stop chain Pilot Flying J, who gave $125,000 apiece
Other Manchin or Sinema re-election donors giving $50,000 to Take Back the House 2022 include:
- David T. Fischer, chairman and CEO of The Suburban Collection, a Michigan-based automobile dealership chain
- Frank E. Richardson, a New York-based investor. Other than Democratic Rep. Jared Golden of Maine and Manchin, all of Richardson’s donations in the past three cycles have been to Republican candidates and party groups.
- James D. Slaughter and James W. Brookshire, the Texas-based president and CEO of construction firm S&B Engineers, whose only donations in recent cycles other than Manchin have been to GOP recipients.
- W. Randall Fowler, a director, co-CEO and CFO of Houston-based pipeline company Enterprise Products, whose only other donations have been on the Republican side.
Business groups launched an all-out lobbying blitz last summer to defeat the Build Back Better Act, pushing to delink the social spending package from the smaller, bipartisan infrastructure bill supported by top-spending lobbying groups.
Three executives with private equity firm KKR—George R. Roberts, Scott Nuttall, and Henry R. Kravis—donated in the fourth quarter of last year to the Beatty Gottheimer Victory Fund, a “pop-up” fundraising committee formed by two Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee. The three donors also made maximum contributions of $5,800 to Sinema’s re-election campaign in November or December.
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