POLITICS

Business Groups Opposed To Crisis Still Can't Quit Tea Party Lawmakers

10/22/2013 04:37 pm ET | Updated Oct 22, 2013

WASHINGTON -- A frustrated business community, opposed to the kind of tea party politics that led to a government shutdown and near debt default, has vowed to protect and elect more moderate Republican lawmakers in next year's primary elections.

But that will require some shift in campaign spending priorities.

Contributions from a host of major trade group PACs during the first nine months of the year showed a clear preference for the House Republicans who ultimately voted for the compromise bill reopening the government and raising the debt limit. At the same time, these PACs gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the House Republicans who voted against the compromise -- and therefore against corporate America's stated wishes.

From January through September, 15 top-contributing PACs gave $1.4 million to the 87 GOP House members who subsequently voted yes on the budget and debt deal, according to Federal Election Commission records. The same PACs gave $753,469 to the 144 House Republicans voting against the deal. All 15 PACs are affiliated with trade groups that signed a Sept. 30 U.S. Chamber of Commerce letter to Congress calling for a "clean" budget bill and debt limit increase.

In a similarly mixed message, the PACs of three big corporations whose chief executives criticized the shutdown and debt limit showdown had previously donated almost evenly to both the yes and no votes among House Republicans. These companies -- Deloitte, Goldman Sachs and Honeywell -- gave $560,858 to yes votes and $557,031 to no votes from January through September.

Surprisingly, given the subsequent criticism from business leaders, contributions from these PACs shifted more in favor of the future no votes in the crucial month of September -- when the shutdown strategy was in full swing. In that month, the 15 trade association PACs gave $230,900 to the yes votes and $181,300 to the no votes, a much smaller gap than during the rest of the year. The three company PACs actually favored the no votes, giving them $80,444 compared to $79,500 to Republicans who would ultimately vote yes on the deal.

Deloitte individually contributed $17,000 more to the Republican no votes than to the yes votes from January to September, yet CEO Joe Echevarria would be publicly critical of the tea party's standoff strategy.

"I'm a Republican by definition and by registration, but the party seems to have split into two factions," Echevarria told The New York Times during the shutdown. Talking about the focus on defunding Obamacare, he said to CNBC, "We need to stop fighting yesterday's elections."

Honeywell CEO David Cote called the notion of not raising the debt limit a "horrible idea" and blamed "this faction within the Republican Party that's causing the issue right now."

Still, the Honeywell PAC, the most prolific corporate PAC donor to Congress, had given $262,358 to House Republicans voting yes and $241,531 to those voting no.

Goldman Sachs' PAC had doled out $99,500 to each group -- the future House Republican yes votes and the no votes. Nonetheless, during the shutdown, bank CEO Lloyd Blankfein attacked the tea party's extreme anti-Obamacare strategy.

"You can litigate these policy issues," Blankfein said. "You can relitigate these policy issues in a political forum, but they shouldn't use the threat of causing the U.S. to fail on its ... obligations to repay on its debt as a cudgel."

The 15 generous PACs whose trade associations had signed the Chamber letter were the American Council of Engineering Companies; the American Trucking Associations; Associated General Contractors; the Edison Electric Institute; the International Franchise Association; the Investment Company Institute; the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts; the National Beer Wholesalers Association; the National Electrical Contractors Association; the National Federation of Independent Business; the National Restaurant Association; the National Gravel, Sand & Stone Association; the Nuclear Energy Institute; the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association and The Real Estate Roundtable.

None of these PACs donated more to the no votes than the yes votes among the House Republicans over the first nine months of 2013. But they didn't cut off those leaning toward tea party strategies either.

The largest difference in giving came from the National Beer Wholesalers Association, which contributed $242,000 to the yes votes and $169,000 to the no votes.

The National Federation of Independent Business showed the smallest difference in giving, with $30,656 to yes votes and $25,469 to no votes. Despite being a leader in Obamacare opposition generally and a key GOP business ally, the federation has been critical of the shutdown and debt default strategy.

“There clearly are people in the Republican Party at the moment for whom the business community and the interests of the business community -- the jobs and members they represent -- don’t seem to be their top priority,” federation head Dan Danner told The New York Times during the shutdown.

The reason the business community has kept supporting tea party Republicans as well as its more reliable GOP allies is no mystery: Corporate America wants lower taxes and less regulation as well as an end to constant crisis governance. And despite business leaders' shutdown criticisms, the desire to have it all may drive future contribution decisions.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue suggested as much on Monday. "Hopefully, we'll be able to bring [the pro-business and tea party groups] to a consensus," he told reporters.

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