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General Motors Donates To Politicians Who Voted Against Auto Industry Bailout

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Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who was a vocal opponent of the auto industry bailout, received $2,000 from General Motor's political action group this year.
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who was a vocal opponent of the auto industry bailout, received $2,000 from General Motor's political action group this year.

Members of Congress who voted against the auto bailout are getting campaign money from an unlikely source -- General Motors, the biggest recipient of auto bailout money.

GM's political action committee has donated $43,000 to House members who voted against the bailout in 2008, according to OpenSecrets.org. That's roughly the same amount it's given to House members who voted in favor of the bill.

The automaker apparently isn't holding any grudges against lawmakers who opposed the bailout. Instead it's focusing on where their donation dollars could benefit it most in the future. Although its overall campaign donations may seem paltry compared to the millions of dollars some political action groups are funneling into the presidential election, campaign finance tracker OpenSecrets.org says General Motors is one of the top 150 corporate donors since 1989, consistently donating to the campaigns of politicians who may support the company's legislative agenda.

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, the group that runs OpenSecrets.org, told The Huffington Post many business PACs focus on supporting candidates who will help them in the future and spend less time worrying about whether or not a candidate has helped them in the past.

"The money will flow where it finds the most advantage," Krumholz said. "Even if they may have lost previous legislative battles and the access did not offer them the success they were seeking, each new day offers a new opportunity to support their legislative agenda."

The automaker's political fund has also given $2,000 to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who was a vocal opponent of the bailout and prevented a bailout bill from passing in the Senate. Corker said he thought the United Auto Workers union had too much bargaining power during the bailout. Union workers booed Corker during an appearance at GM's Tennessee plant.

GM has made three separate $10,000 donations to individual candidates this year. Two of those candidates, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), voted against the bailout. The third, Rep. David Camp (R-Mich.) voted in favor. Camp is the chairman of the Ways and Means committee.

GM said its donations are consistent with its business strategy.

"Overall, reasonable people may have disagreed on a particular course of action nearly four years ago, but we believe a strong auto industry/manufacturing base and a resurgent GM that is creating jobs and investments should be a cause for bipartisan support," Greg Martin, a spokesman for GM, wrote in an email to HuffPost.

The federal government invested about $80 billion in Detroit's automakers and suppliers following the economic downturn in 2008. About $60 million went to GM and Chrysler. But the decision to help out the carmakers came after a long and protracted debate. In December 2008, the House narrowly passed a bill that would have given $14 billion to automakers to help them from sliding into bankruptcy. But the Senate wouldn't pass a similar bill, so the debate continued on.

Weeks later, the Bush administration decided to let the auto industry tap into the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) to fund the bailout. President Barack Obama's administration has continued using TARP to aid the auto industry.

Back in 2008, current presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said he was against the bailout, writing in a New York Times editorial that Detroit should be allowed to go bankrupt. Eventually, GM and Chrysler did head through bankruptcy with the financial support of the U.S. government.

Now, both Obama and Romney take credit for the auto industry's recent resurgence.

GM's campaign donations are heavily weighted in favor of Republicans. During this campaign cycle, it has donated $62,500 to Republicans and $34,300 to Democrats.

Chrysler, the other major automaker that benefitted from government support in 2008 and 2009, decided to disband its PAC after it emerged from bankruptcy, Chrysler spokesman Michael Palese said. GM took a brief break from political donations as well, but started up again in September 2010.

So far this year, GM has spent $2.6 million lobbying at the federal level. For all of 2011, it spent $10.9 million. GM has lobbied on a wide range of topics, ranging from transportation bills and trade to taxes and appropriations. It has lobbied most often on a bill sponsored by Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), which would let companies get bigger tax credits for property or equipment purchased in 2012. The automaker donated $4,000 to Tiberi's campaign this year.

It has also lobbied on bills dealing with electric cars, a handful of transportation acts and a bill that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating car emissions starting in 2017. It's unclear from the lobbying reports which side of the issues GM was lobbying for or against.

"Each donor is, at any given time, fighting on a number of fronts; fighting for or against a number of piece of legisltation," Krumholz said. "A business PAC is less ideologically motivated and more attuned to the most advantageous path forward. And that usually follows the power."

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