Thad Cochran’s Impressive Array of Corporate Backers

Jun 25, 2014 10:27am

Thad Cochran’s FEC reports read like checklists of every type of PAC imaginable.

Money has flown around in Mississippi this month, and the incumbent won last night’s Senate primary runoff with help from a truly impressive array of groups—many of them corporate affiliated—donating directly to his campaign, abiding by $5,000-per-election PAC-to-candidate donation caps in the pre-super-PAC-era way. It was a fittingly old-fashioned approach for the six-term senator, a throwback to the days before Citizens United, when direct PAC donations were the foremost manner in which groups could help a candidate out.

Cochran won with larger than expected African-American and Democratic turnout, a strategy uncommon in a Republican primary, as Democrats who had not voted in their own party’s primary were eligible to support Cochran over the more conservative McDaniel.

The financial strategy was a marked divergence from Cochran’s tea-partying rival Chris McDaniel, who took in almost no direct donations from PACs and let “outside spenders” run almost the entire show. Outside spenders are supporters who run ads independent of the campaign, but are not allowed to coordinate with the candidate’s campaign and do not have donation limits like those who donate to a candidate’s campaign.

Most veteran politicians take in some corporate-PAC backing, particularly when those corporate interests concern their states or districts, but Cochran’s corporate-PAC money was exceptionally broad, and thanks to the runoff, it came uncommonly early in the election cycle. Since the race went head-to-head after the first-round primary on June 3, 184 PACs have given Cochran $673,800, making up 58 percent of his $1.15 million in his total fundraising during the runoff.

Just about every agricultural interest you can think of backed Cochran, from corn PACs to soybeans to fertilizer to rice to turkey to chicken to beef, from crop insurance to the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives to the Farm Credit PAC to the Rural Cellular Association. Lumber, paper, and the United Egg Association are on board. Wondering where the Committee for Advancement of Cotton stands? Look no further than Cochran’s June 14 FEC report, where it’s nestled close between the United States Beet Sugar PAC and the American Crystal Sugar PAC (interrupted only by a $5,000 contribution from health care giant WellPoint).

But so have heavyweight DC lobbying firms (Blank Rome, Ernst & Young, DLA Piper), the PAC arms of oil companies (Shell, Exxon), tele-conglomerates (Sprint/Nextel, Motorola Solutions, AT&T), defense firms (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation), automakers (Ford, Gulf State Toyota, Rolls Royce of North America), big tobacco (Altria), health care (American Hospital Association, the Biotechnology Industry PAC, Glaxo Smith Kline, Amgen), chemicals (BASF), insurers (Travelers, Aflac) and a broad smattering of large and small corporate, industry-association, and employees’ political-spending groups.

It’s a very long buffet of PAC offerings. Media giants CBS and Fox both support him. So do Comcast Corp./ NBC Universal and the National Association of Broadcasters. The American Resort Development Association, apparently, is a big fan. So is Johnson & Johnson. So are Home Depot, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, and Fedex.

If Cochran’s campaign were a NASCAR team, the lugnuts might read “Marathon Oil Company,” “Nossaman LLP,” “Sunkist Growers Inc. PAC,” or “National Academy of Dietetics,” all of which gave $1,000—the lowest amount for any PAC, given by 30 of them total. MGM Resorts, a $2,500 donor, might get something on the hood. You might see a logo for nuclear-development and consulting company General Atomics, a $5,000 donor, on a rear side panel.

The donor list goes on. It includes the National Community Pharmacists Association, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers PAC, the National Beer Wholesalers PAC, and the American Hospital Association with each giving $5,000, the same amount given by  Aflac, the Aerospace Industries Association of America, and the Wells Fargo Employees Association PAC,  and the National Multifamily Housing Council.

The Shipbuilders Council of America, Crop Insurance Professionals, and Washington-state-based lumber company Weyerhauser ponied up $2,500 each.

Some of Cochran’s PAC backers were ideological groups or were affiliated with other politicians. The Republican Majority Fund PAC donated, as did the PACs associated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sens. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and John Thune, R-S.D. The still-extant campaign of former Mississippi congressman Chip Pickering also donated. Cochran’s biggest donation, of $10,000, came from the PAC affiliated with Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

An uncommon number of them, however, were linked to corporations or professional groups. Raytheon. Kellogg. Honeywell. The International Association of Firefighters. Airbus.

Some of Cochran’s donors are household names, some aren’t, and some you might never know about, if not for Cochran’s federal disclosures. You might know that Orbital, for instance, is the “industry leader in small- and medium-class space and rocket systems,” but you might not know that Telapex is a telecom holding company based in Jackson, or that the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association exists.

On June 9 alone, Cochran raised money from a national rural water PACs, a shipbuilding company, seven politicians’ PACs, two sugar groups, a national Republican PAC, Walmart, and Best Buy.

Cochran has basked in PAC money while enjoying healthy support from a cadre of powerful outside-spending groups, led by the NRA and highlighted by the American Hospital Association, the National Association of Realtors, and pro-Cochran super PAC called Mississippi Conservatives, which have spent $2.23 million* backing Cochran and opposing McDaniel.

McDaniel, on the other hand, had only raised $26,200 from eight PACs during the runoff, including the Family Research Council, the PACs affiliated with Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum, and tea-party groups.

McDaniel’s effort was funded almost completely by outside spending: His campaign raised only $174,900 since June 4, but outside groups combined to inject over $2 million* into the race. The Club for Growth led the way, with Tea Party Patriots, Independent Women’s Voice, and FreedomWorks chipping in, among others.

In the general election, Cochran will face off with former Democratic congressman Travis Childers, who in mid-May reported having raised $82,000 total.

*Totals could be lower. Sometimes, groups make the FEC-reporting error of double-reporting their spending in support of one candidate and opposition of another (they are required to include those designations), resulting in some sporadic double-counting of funds.

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U.S. Sen Thad Cochran (R-MS) (R) greets supporters at Mama Hamil's restaurant on June 24, 2014 in Madison, Miss. Image redit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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