Who’s going to blink? Influence profiles of eight who could end the shutdown


If the government shutdown is going to be resolved, it's going to take compromise by some key players who so far haven't shown much willingness to bend. So who might influence these influentials? Sunlight decided to examine some of the monied interests behind key figures in the debate.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in many cases the special interests are closely aligned with their beneficiaries' positions in the standoff, which largely revolves around the health care debate.

Here's a closer look:

Barack Obama

The president is the most prodigious fundraising weapon in the Democrats' arsenal. His campaign's success in the cash department is well documented and a review of the head of state's Influence profile shows that he received over $22 million in contributions from health professionals alone over his campaigning career. 

While term limits preclude Obama from another shot at the White House, that hasn't stopped him from raising serious bucks for fellow members in the shutdown's aftermath. 

A more favorable Congress — via a potential Democratic surge in the 2014 midterm elections — would be a boon to Obama's legislative agenda and the party's fundraiser-in-chief has not slacked off as he battles with Republicans over funding of the Affordable Care Act.  

Though the president and members of Congress may be too busy to court their usual high-dollar donors in person, the central party committees (on both sides) have capitalized on the standoff by unleashing wave after wave of pleas for grassroots donations. The strategy appears to have paid off for Obama and the Dems: The Hill's Ballot Box reports that the Democratic National Committee raised nearly $850,000 in the 24 hours leading up to the midnight shutdown.  


Harry Reid

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is the face of Senate Democrats and has thus far stood firm in his decision to double down on healthcare. In an effort to call the GOP's bluff, Reid remains unwilling to put funding of the controversial bill on the table, much to the discontent of his Republican colleagues. 

Though Reid's status as majority leader precludes him from serving on any committees — save as an ex officio member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence —  his status as a party leader makes him the frequent target of lobbyist contributions. The law industry has been by far his biggest financial backer over the years, contributing more than $5.6 million to the Nevadan's campaigns. Of course, one of the largest commercial interests in Nevada is the gaming industry and Reid has received contributions from casino and gambling interests to the tune of $1,830,002. The MGM Mirage corporation is his top contributor.

While Reid haggles with Republicans on Capitol Hill, one of his biggest supporters is preparing to enter federal prison for breaking campaign finance laws by illegally funnelling more than $130,000 in hard money contributions to Reid's campaigns. The Reno Gazette Journal reports that Harvey Whittemore, a former state lobbyist, used family members and employees as proxies in order to circumvent federal campaign laws preventing individuals from contributing more than $5,200 to a candidate per cycle. Real Clear Politics reports that Reid is not implicated in the charges.

Charles "Chuck" Schumer

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is a fundraising powerhouse whose campaigns have long benefitted from Wall Street bucks. Influence Explorer data reveals that Goldman SachsCitigroup and Bear Stearns are all present among the top five contributors to New York's senior senator, who has raised more than $50 million in his time serving in Congress.

A government shutdown has put a crunch on these financial giants, who may be harmed by another blow to investor confidence at a time when markets' recovery is still tepid. Business organizations, led by K Street heavy hitters like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are strongly against the shutdown, putting them at odds with conservative free market enthusiasts such as the Club for Growth.

Schumer, who branded the shutdown to be the work of right-wing "fanatics" at a recent speaking engagement in Brooklyn, is opposed to placing the hotly contested medical device excise tax on the table as a means of finding compromise with Republicans. The president's new health care would levy a 2.3 percent tax increase on medical device manufacturers and has been the focus of a frenzied lobbying effort from the industry.  

Peter King

Rep. Peter King, D-N.Y., a centrist Republican who has clashed with the "Ted Cruz element" of the GOP, recently told the Daily Beast that his party's attempt to dismantle Obamacare "goes against the whole spirit of the Constitution."

Influence Explorer data reveals that King — who appears to be the first major GOP elected official to announce formally his 2016 presidential intentions — brings in most of his campaign cash from in-state donors. One of the New Yorker's top contributors is the American Bankers Association, while labor unions including the Sheet Metal/AC Contractors Association, the Laborers' Union and the Carpenters & Joiners Union also have given heavily. Historically, the Laborers' Union and the Carpenters Union give more money to Democrats, while the sheet metal group gives to more Republicans (with King its largest recipient, at $71,000). Since he was first elected in 1993, King has received $58,500 from the American Hospital Association and $271,311 from insurance companies.

King's largest bundler is former New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, the founder and managing director of lobbying firm Park Strategies (which primarily gives to Republicans and contributed $91,500 to Renew America PAC). Disclosure reports filed with the U.S. Senate shows that the lobby shop wide-ranging practice represented clients as diverse as United Technologies and Residents for Sane Trash Solutions. Through his lobbying firm, D'Amato delivered $70,350 to King.

Steven King

A review of Influence Explorer data on Rep. Steven King, R-Iowa shows that the Iowa conservative benefits strongly from his connections to the party's fiscally conservative base. The anti-tax Club for Growth is by far King's largest contributor — having given some $267,507 to the Republican's campaigns since he entered Congress in 2003. Club for Growth is also a vehement opponent of the President's healthcare reforms and has stood firm in supporting a shutdown should Senate Dems refuse to cave on funding the ACA. 

The Republican congressman's electoral efforts have also benefitted from hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from agricultural interests — unsurprising given the strong farming presence in Iowa — and a total of $158,640 from health professionals. 

Records from Sunlight's Party Time tool reveal that King's connection to Senate hardliners like Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah extends beyond ideology and into the world of campaign fundraising. On Oct. 26, King will hunt for pheasant and campaign dough at an Iowa fundraiser with Cruz.

On the opposite side of the aisle, King's uncompromising stance on budget issues is serving as fundraising fuel for his opponents. The House Majority PAC — a Democratic committee focused on regaining Democratic control of the House — recently unleashed a clutch of attack ads criticizing the congressman on everything from his votes to cut college loans and Pell grants to his travel expenses during a six-day trip to Russia.

Mitch McConnell 

The Republicans' lead voice in the Senate finds himself in a particularly perilous position as he attempts to navigate between the more conservative and moderate currents of his party — and simultaneously stave off a challenger in the Republican primaries. 

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is a Wall Street favorite who has received $2,192,101 from the securities and investment industry during the course of his career. As of mid-August  he was opposed to a government shutdown — stating that it would not stop Obamacare from going into effect. McConnell's largest single contributor is Kindred Healthcare, which has given $187,450 to the Kentucky conservative. The healthcare group may stand to benefit from the medicare expansion provided by the Afforable Care Act 

But McConnell's position has evolved as his reelection picture has become more complicated. Of all the senators up for reelection in 2014, he may have the biggest target on his back. Sunlight's Political Ad Sleuth has captured a torrent of ad buys in the Louisville market, starting as early as February. Some have been paid for by Matt Bevin, a wealthy businessman who is challenging McConnell from the right in the Republican primary. Bevin's spots have hammered the Senate Minority Leader for not being tough enough on Senate Democrats. The Senate Conservatives Fund recently bought airtime in Kentucky to level the same charge in a particularly tough ad.


Ted Cruz

As previously reported by Sunlight, Republican 'outsider' Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is also closely entangled with the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF). The latter is the super PAC run by a former aide of the retired Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and the force behind dontfundobamacare.com, which features online pleas from both Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in addition to an appeal for grassroots contributions to the SCF. 

In his first year as a senator, Cruz already has rocketed to the top cadre of his party in terms of both publicity and fundraising. Should the Texan pass up a bid for the Oval Office in 2016, it won't be for a lack of funds: The Cruz campaign is overflowing with cash. On top of $705,657 in hard money contributions from the Club for Growth's employees and political action committee and $315,991 from the Senate Conservatives Fund (the hard money counterpart of the SCF super PAC), the Lone Star senator has received tens of thousands in direct contributions from a wide array of banks and law firms.

Altogether, Cruz has raised over $15 million since the beginning of his 2012 election efforts — an astounding sum for a rookie member of the upper chamber. While the senator may be a prominent figure on the national stage, his Texas roots are still earning him big bucks: 70 percent of his contributions came from sources inside Texas. 

Mike Lee  

Cruz' partner-in-fauxlibuster, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is another DeMint favorite, though this Senate Judiciary Committee member has received the largest amount of hard money contributions from law firms. Lee's campaign has also received $24,189 from controversial coal mining corporation Murray Energy and $27,300 from lobby shop Sidley Austin since he was first elected in 2010.

Lee's overall fundraising numbers are much more indicative of a 'normal' senator's than those of Cruz — around $1.9 million — though he may experience a jump in contributions following his time in the national spotlight. There are no reports of super PAC spending either for or against Lee in the 2011-2012 cycle, but he doesn't face the voters again until 2016.

A Party Time invite from the National Republican Senatorial Committee shows Lee partied with presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in May. 

Contributing: Palmer Gibbs; all photos via Wikimedia Commons