POLITICS
02/01/2013 04:15 pm ET | Updated Feb 01, 2013

PAC Contributions To Congress Continued Weeks After 2012 Election Ended

WASHINGTON -- The never-ending fundraising race continued in Washington, even after the most expensive election in U.S. history ended on Nov. 6, 2012. Political action committees gave $5.6 million to candidates in the final five weeks of 2012, according to filings reported to the Federal Election Commission.

These contributions run the gamut from boosting Senate candidates in 2014 to retiring the debt of newly elected freshman lawmakers. They also include contributions by PACs to the 2014 campaigns of House candidates who just won election in 2012.

The largest recipient of PAC donations in the waning weeks of 2012 was freshman Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). Heitkamp's campaign received $276,000, mostly for debt retirement, from 95 different PACs. In total, 11 of the top 25 recipients of PAC contributions in the final campaign filing period for 2012 had just won election in November. Nine of them were freshmen lawmakers who had just won their first election, many of whom were seeking to retire debt from their campaigns.

Trey Hawkins, vice president for political affairs for the Credit Union National Association, explained that the organization's PAC often sees debt reduction as a way to reach out to a candidate whom they may not have backed during the election.

"Sometimes we think the best candidate is going to be the one we want to back, and they're not successful," Hawkins said. "So, in order to best serve our members, we want to reach out to the guy that may have won, and sometimes there's an opportunity to help retire their debt and start off on a good relationship as well."

The Credit Union National Association PAC was one of the top donors during this end-of-year period. They gave $84,000 from Nov. 27 through Dec. 31, making them the fourth-largest PAC donor for the period.

The top PAC donor for the end of 2012 was the PAC for the International Union of Operating Engineers, which gave $165,000 in the final weeks of 2012. Other top donor PACs during this period include those associated with Comcast, McKesson Corporation, National Association of Air Traffic Controllers, Federal Express, Honeywell, National Cable and Television Association, Pfizer and Walmart.

Contributions by PACs are generally given to candidates who support issues important to the company, interest or union behind the giving. They are also often given to lawmakers sitting on committees relevant to the organization's issues.

According to Pfizer's corporate responsibility statement, the company, "considers candidates' views on issues that impact Pfizer and its employees as well as the presence of Pfizer facilities or employees in the candidate's district or state."

Honeywell spokesperson Victoria Ann Streitfeld emailed an explanation for the company's PAC giving: "Honeywell’s political action committee supports those who support the policies that are most important to our business and will help the American economy grow and add new American jobs over the long-term.”

Many of the contributions made by these PACs went to senators who will face reelection in 2014. Ten of the top 25 recipients of post-election PAC cash were 2014-cycle senators. Many top recipients are also facing potentially tough reelection paths, including a couple of Republican senators who may have primary challenges from more conservative candidates.

The top recipient among these senators was Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), with $212,850 in PAC contributions. Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) trailed with $175,500 and $142,350, respectively. A handful of other Democratic senators facing reelection received big end-of-year PAC contributions as well, including Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.).

Among Republicans running in 2014, the top recipient of PAC money at the end of 2012 was Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who has been tacking to the right to avoid a potential primary challenge. Cornyn received $76,000 from PACs at the end of 2012. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was the second-biggest Republican recipient running in 2014, with $70,500 in PAC contributions.

Aaron Bycoffe contributed reporting to this story.

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