Want to know what really makes Washington work?
General Motors is proving that this week, as the company—which is still 61 percent owned by federal taxpayers—decides to end its self-imposed post-bailout ban on contributing campaign cash to political candidates.
GM’s political action committee has given $91,500 in contributions so far in 2010, according to new campaign disclosure filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Those contributions went to Republicans and Democrats almost evenly, and were heavily directed toward Michigan lawmakers who have long been friendly to the auto industry.
A GM spokesman said the company could no longer afford to sit on the sidelines as its competitors doled out cash to members of Congress. And GM noted that its contributions come from its political action committee, which is made up of voluntary contributions from GM employees.
The UAW political action committee, which also accepts contributions from GM employees, never took a break from donating to pols in Washington, the company points out.
The GM folks point out that this is a new company, freshly emerged from bankruptcy, and ready to do all the legal things that companies do to compete in America.
But this is a development that tells you more about American lawmakers than it does American automakers.
GM’s change of heart raises an important question: Why is it that a company as iconic as General Motors, which is owned by the taxpayers, feels it has to cough up campaign cash in order to have a voice in Washington?
I asked a GM official why that is, and the official said, "We didn't make the rules."
He's referring to the unofficial rules of the road in Washington. The rules that say you have to pay to play. No matter that you’re one of America’s most important companies. No matter that the taxpayers have more than $50 billion invested in your success.
Between the lines, GM’s decision says this: If you want government officials to pay attention, you have to send them a check.
It's important to highlight the timing of GM’s move: the company is widely expected to conduct an IPO after the midterm elections in November, but GM feels its important to begin contributions before the midterms, when the cash has the most impact on lawmakers. That's why the company began donating even before it begins the IPO process of getting out from under government ownership.
In Washington, maybe now more than ever, money talks.
Here’s a breakdown provided by General Motors of some of the candidates who have received cash from the company in 2010.
- Sen. Debbie Stabenow: $5000
- Sen. Chuck Schumer: $5000
- Sen. Sherrod Brown: $2000
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar: $1000
- Sen. Ron Wyden: $1000
Senate Democrat Subtotal: $14,000
- Candidate for Missouri Senate: Rep. Roy Blunt: $5000
- Candidate for Ohio Senate: Rob Portman: $5000
- Candidate for Indiana Senate: Dan Coats: $5000
Senate Republican Subtotal: $15,000
SENATE TOTAL: $29,000
- Majority Whip, Rep. James Clyburn: $1000
- Michigan Rep. Gary Peters: $2000
- Michigan Rep. John Dingell: $5000
- Michigan Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick: $1000
House Democrat Subtotal: $9,000
- Republican Whip, Rep. Eric Cantor: $2000
- NRCC Chair, Rep. Pete Sessions: $2000
- Michigan Rep (R), Rep. Dave Camp: $5000
House Republican Subtotal: $9,000
HOUSE TOTAL: $18,000
- Candidate for New York Governor, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo: $3500
- Candidate for Kansas Governor, Sen. Sam Brownback: $2000