By Josh Israel, Aaron Mehta, and Caitlin Ginley
The Center for Public Integrity
Tobacco and whiskey have helped build Mitch McConnell's political career. Tobacco giants Altria Group Inc. and Reynolds American Inc. are two of Mitch McConnell's top five career campaign PAC contributors. And three of the Senate Republican leader's top five individual donors have ties to the Kentucky-based maker of Jack Daniel's whiskey.
Those are among the results of the Center for Public Integrity's review of CQ MoneyLine information on McConnell's contribution history for both campaign accounts and leadership PACs, dating back to before his first Senate campaign in 1984. The Center's probe of McConnell's finances marks the second in a series of pieces on top donors to Congressional leaders.
Addison Mitchell "Mitch" McConnell, 68, a former Congressional aide and Department of Justice staffer, was elected Jefferson County, Kentucky judge-executive in 1977 and again in 1981. In 1984, McConnell narrowly defeated Democratic incumbent Walter Huddleston to win a U.S. Senate seat by just a few thousand votes. McConnell won in 1990, 1996, and 2008 by narrow margins, garnering at most 55 percent of the vote; his 2002 victory was far more comfortable. Those close races required a lot of money, and McConnell has risen to the challenge, amassing more than $47 million for his campaign committees over his career. In 1989 he established the Bluegrass Committee, a leadership PAC through which he began distributing contributions to fellow Senate Republicans and potential candidates. The PAC has distributed money to 36 of McConnell's 40 current GOP colleagues. It's paid off -- in 2003, McConnell became the Senate Republican Whip and in 2007, his party made him Senate Minority Leader.
McConnell has strong ties to the tobacco industry and has received more money from tobacco interests than any member of Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That's hardly a surprise, though, as Kentucky is the nation's second-largest tobacco producer, and is tops in the production of burley tobacco, an air-dried variety used to make cigarettes.
He is also known for his opposition to campaign finance restrictions, such as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. After the legislation was enacted over his filibuster attempts, McConnell sued to overturn the law, but the U.S. Supreme Court eventually upheld most of the bill's provisions. His wife, Elaine Chao, served as secretary of labor for eight years under President George W. Bush.
Of the more than $47.5 million McConnell has raised, nearly $27.5 million comes from individuals. At least $251,700 or about one percent of his grand total comes from his five top donors. The top ten PACs combined to give McConnell at least $1,049,341, more than eight percent of his overall total.
Sen. McConnell's office did not respond to a request for comment.