Lobbyists and contractors fete senators, fuel McConnell

Mitch McConnell speaking at CPAC in 2011.
McConnell speaking at CPAC, 2011; Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is known around Washington as a tenacious fundraiser. He comes by the reputation honestly.

Just days after the start of the 114th Congress, the Republican from Kentucky pulled down more than $80,000 for one of his campaign committees at a bash celebrating his rise to the perch of Majority Leader. Haley Barbour, the former Mississippi governor turned high-dollar Washington lobbyist, threw the fundraiser at his firm’s headquarters. Politico Influence reports that Barbour, an old McConnell ally, even emceed the event, which featured 13 GOP senators and a slew of lobbyists and representatives of corporate PACs. (You can see the full list of attendees on Politico or Political Party Time.)

We know how much campaign cash the party raked in thanks to a recent financial report from the Bluegrass Committee, McConnell’s leadership PAC. On Feb. 11, Bluegrass reported 44 contributions totaling $83,000 — apparently from the Jan. 5 fundraiser.

BGR group, the lobbying firm that bears Barbour’s name, was the largest benefactor of the day. Employees of that organization, which represented 85 clients on Capitol Hill and before federal agencies according to OpenSecrets.org’s most recent tally, accounted for $21,439 pumped into the Bluegrass PAC in February, including $5,000 for catering the event.

Representatives from some of BGR’s well-heeled clients also dished out some New Year’s gifts to the ascendant Majority Leader.

In an example of one of the counterintuitive alliances forged in Washington, the political action committee representing the AFL-CIO’s building trades union gave $5,000 to Bluegrass Committee. The left-leaning union’s national arm was a sharp critic of McConnell during his re-election contest last November, calling the Kentucky senator one of a “host of extreme candidates who support policies that limit rights, make it even harder to afford a middle-class life and pad the pockets of their corporate buddies” in a September press release.

Representatives from UPS, a major federal contractor, were also on hand for some face time with the bevy of senators, chipping in $5,000 through its PAC.

Although political committees publicly disclose their fundraising, being able to connect surges in contributions with a high-dollar fundraiser is a rarity because of varying accounting methods and the lack of transparency in political fundraising. (As a side note, if you catch wind of any fundraisers, you can upload them anonymously to Political Party Time here and they will be added to our database.)

The full list of PACs contributing to the Bluegrass Committee, according to its most recent FEC report, also includes:

Unlike regular campaign donations, the cash raised by McConnell’s leadership PAC has fewer restrictions on its use. Generally, leadership committees are used to help out fellow incumbents, spreading out donations pulled in by the party’s leadership.

So, what did all that PAC and lobbyist cash pay for?

In February, Bluegrass spent just under $75,000, shelling out $40,000 for “strategic consulting” and giving a $10,000 contribution to the campaign account of Sen. Richard, Burr, R-N.C., who will be up for re-election in 2016.