PACs and CEOs from region make $1.5 million in campaign contributions

Watchdog group reports GOP hopefuls, groups given $3.40 for each Democrat $1

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Political action committees at a dozen major public companies in the region and the CEOs of those companies have made more than $1.5 million in campaign contributions to presidential and congressional candidates, according to data for the 2011-12 election cycle compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Republican candidates and groups have received about $3.40 in contributions for every $1 that the regional PACs and CEOs gave to Democrats, according to the Washington, D.C., watchdog group.

The corporate PACs and CEOs have donated $111,040 to Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney -- $30,540 to the candidate directly and another $80,500 to the Romney Victory PAC. More than half of the funding was contributed by Consol Energy, a Cecil-based energy company that, like other coal producers, is critical of Mr. Obama's environmental policies.

None of the corporate PACs or executives has contributed to Democratic President Barack Obama or committees supporting his re-election.

PG graphic: Political donations
(Click image for larger version)

Only two of the companies -- Cecil generic drug producer Mylan and nutrition supplement maker GNC -- gave more to Democrat campaigns than Republican campaigns.

The amount of money that companies and executives have donated varies widely.

Two PACs organized by PNC Financial Services Group, along with PNC CEO James Rohr, contributed $311,300 over the two-year period, with Republican campaigns getting 74 percent of the money.

That's nearly 17 times more than the $18,500 that GNC and Kennametal, a Latrobe-area toolmaker, each donated to candidates and committees.

Contributions made by the dozen companies are a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated $5.8 billion total that will be spent on this year's presidential and congressional elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

That estimate includes money spent by super-PACs and nonprofits that rely on anonymous donors and wage independent campaigns -- often ads against candidates they oppose.

Organized labor is also a major player in campaign financing. The Operating Engineers Union ($2.5 million); the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ($2 million); and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees ($2 million) are among the 10 largest PAC contributors to candidates in the election, according to the center. The overwhelming majority of their contributions go to Democrats.

The escalation in spending is a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in the Citizen's United case. The court allowed companies, labor unions and other groups to donate freely to trade associations and other nonprofits active in political spending -- as long as that spending is not coordinated with a candidate or political party.

Companies are under no requirement to disclose those donations on the federal level, but more of them are, according to Bruce Freed of the Center for Political Accountability.

"Political spending disclosure is becoming a mainstream corporate practice," said Mr. Freed, president of the Washington, D.C., group that promotes the disclosures.

Mr. Freed said large state and municipal pension plans are among those urging companies to provide more information about their spending. His group and the University of Pennsylvania's Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research ranked the quality of that disclosure for the top 200 companies in the S&P 500. The ranking was based on 25 factors, including whether companies disclose spending they are not obligated to report.

Drug maker Merck and Microsoft ranked the highest. Priceline.com, Estee Lauder and Loews were among the companies with the poorest scores. H.J. Heinz, the only Pittsburgh company in the group, finished tied for 31st.

Federal Election Commission regulations allow individuals to donate up to $2,500 to candidates per election -- the primary and general elections -- in the 2011-12 election cycle. PACs can contribute as much as $5,000 to a candidate over the same time period.

Mr. Freed said banks, health care companies and other industries that are subject to more government regulations tend to invest more in elections.

"They want access and influence," he said.

More than 90 percent of the contributions made by Consol and its CEO, J. Brett Harvey, went to Republican campaigns.

Mr. Harvey and the energy producer's PAC each contributed $5,000 to Mr. Romney. Consol's PAC donated another $50,000 to the Romney Victory PAC and $35,000 to committees backing Republican Congressional candidates. Mr. Harvey donated the maximum $30,800 to the Republican National Committee and $4,800 each to state Republican groups in Vermont, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Idaho.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was a beneficiary of donations from the regional companies.

The Boehner for Speaker Committee received $53,500 from six companies, with most of it coming from Consol ($15,000) and Education Management Corp., EQT and PPG, which each contributed $10,000.

The Romney Victory PAC also received $20,000 from U.S. Steel's political action committee, $5,500 from Education Management's PAC and $5,000 from PPG Industries' PAC.

Three other CEOs -- Mr. Rohr, Federated Investors' J. Christopher Donahue, and Richard Harshman of Allegheny Technologies -- donated $30,800 to the Republican National Committee. That is the maximum annual contribution that individuals can make to a national party committee.

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Len Boselovic: lboselovic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1941.


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