George Graham

Campaign Gifts from Bail-Out Money Look Like Kickbacks to Me

If a small-town mayor took a “campaign contribution” from the local towing service after voting to award the company a contract to tow illegally parked cars, you can bet there would be cries of “kickback!” He might even end up in jail. And when New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was accused of taking a campaign contribution from a company that does business with his state, the hue and cry was so shrill that he withdrew as President Obama’s nominee for Commerce Secretary.

bailoutSo where is the public outrage over campaign contributions to members of Congress (in both parties) from financial institutions that received bailout money?

Newsweek reports that recent filings with the Federal  Election Commission show the political action committees of five big bailout recipients doled out $85,300 to members in the first two months of this year Рwith most of the cash going to those who serve on committees overseeing the bailout program.

Among them:

Bank of America (which got $15 billion in bailout money) sent out $24,500 in the first two months of 2009, including $1,500 to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and another $15,000 to members of the House and Senate banking panels.

Citigroup ($25 billion) dished out $29,620, including $2,500 to House GOP Whip Eric Cantor, who also got $10,000 from UBS which got $5 billion in bailout funds as an AIG “counterparty.”

We are talking about contributions since the bailout, not about the $114 million the bailed out companies coughed up in political contributions and lobbying last year.

Recipients include Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs (he received $854,200 from the companies in the 2008 election cycle) and Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, chair of the Senate Finance Committee (he received $279,000). In total, members of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, Senate Finance Committee and House Financial Services Committee received $5.2 million in the 2007-2008 election cycle from companies that would later receive bailouts.

(You will probably hear that President Obama collected at least $4.3 million from these companies for his presidential campaign but that’s not true. The Obama contributions came from individuals working at the companies, not from the companies themselves. And since most of us have to work somewhere, it would be a tall order to restrict contributions from individuals based on their workplace.)

The companies giving the most to fund lawmakers’ campaigns and spending the most on lobbying efforts were also those that received the most tax money to help them stay afloat. This includes General Motors, which spent $15 million between campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures and got $10.4 billion, Bank of America (and Merrill Lynch, the investment firm it bought last year), which spent $14.5 million and received $45 billion; American International Group (AIG), which spent $10.6 million and was paid $40 billion; and Citigroup, which spent $12.5 million and got $50 billion.

In addition to receiving campaign contributions, many members of Congress have suspicious-looking links to companies that stand to benefit from government largess.  Some have relatives, even spouses, close friends and lovers working (or lobbying) for the companies they regulate.

This kind of thing fills me with despair. How on earth are we to have good government in the prevailing climate of you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours?

It’s no wonder former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich thought he was doing nothing wrong when he talked about selling Obama’s vacant Senate seat.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for