Corporate donations to Sen. Joe Manchin's PAC surged as he fought President Biden's agenda

Key Points
  • Sen. Joe Manchin's PAC saw a surge in corporate contributions this fall before his decision to oppose President Biden's $1.75 trillion social and climate legislation.
  • The political action committee received 17 contributions in October and 19 last month, according to a CNBC analysis of Federal Election Commission filings.
  • Corporations, business leaders and groups have pressured Manchin to oppose the agenda since the Democrats gained a slight majority in the Senate.
Sen. Manchin PAC raises large corporate donations over Build Back Better opposition
Sen. Manchin PAC raises large corporate donations over Build Back Better opposition

Sen. Joe Manchin's political action committee saw a surge in corporate contributions this fall, ahead of his decision to oppose – and apparently kill – President Joe Biden's $1.75 trillion social safety net and climate-change bill.

Manchin's leadership PAC, Country Roads, received 17 contributions from corporations in October and 19 last month, according to a CNBC analysis of Federal Election Commission filings. None of the four months prior to October saw as many corporate contributions.

The White House unveiled its framework for the bill, dubbed the Build Back Better Act, in October. It included about $550 billion to battle climate change by investing in green technologies. Manchin, a conservative Democrat who has profited from his links to the coal industry, opposed key climate provisions in the legislation.

In November, the Country Roads PAC received corporate contributions ranging from $2,500 to $5,000. Donors included financial giants such as American Express and Goldman Sachs, aerospace and defense leader Lockheed Martin, health insurance companies UnitedHealth Group and Blue Cross Blue Shield, and natural gas company CNX Resources. The PAC raised over $110,000 in November.

Country Roads raised over $150,000 in October from corporate donors such as Verizon, Union Pacific, Wells Fargo and PACs tied to the coal and mining industries. Manchin, a conservative Democrat, represents West Virginia, which overwhelmingly voted for former President Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. The state is a key location for the fossil-fuel industry.

Corporations, business leaders and outside groups have pressured Manchin to oppose key parts of the Democratic administration's agenda ever since his party gained a slight majority in the Senate following the 2020 election.

The Koch network has lobbied Manchin to oppose key elements of the legislation, while billionaires such as Nelson Peltz and Ken Langone have cheered him on as he moved against his own party. Langone has said he plans to host a fundraising event for the West Virginia lawmaker, who is weighing running for reelection in 2024.

Jonathan Kott, who once worked for Manchin as a communications advisor and is now a lobbyist, gave $2,500 to Manchin's leadership PAC at the end of November. Kott started lobbying for energy giant ExxonMobil in the third quarter after he was hired by Capitol Counsel earlier this year.

Manchin said on Sunday that he won't support Biden's $1.75 trillion social spending and climate policy bill after months of negotiations with the president, his team and leaders in Congress. It was the latest in a set of issues that Manchin has pushed back on against his own party.

In October and November, a period that coincided with Manchin fighting his own party on the agenda, his PAC spent thousands of dollars on hotel arrangements and travel.

In November, the leadership PAC spent over $40,000 at The Greenbrier, a luxury resort in West Virginia, which is owned by the family of Republican Gov. Jim Justice. The November FEC filing says the money was used for catering, lodging, food and beverages.

In October, the PAC spent over $1,000 on travel for Manchin's son, Joseph Manchin IV, according to that month's filing. The Intercept reported that Manchin's son has leadership roles at companies with ties to the West Virginia lawmaker.

The PAC spent another $1,000 on the Sawgrass Marriot, a golf resort in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and over $2,000 on catering an event at RPM Italian, a restaurant in Washington, D.C. The PAC also spent just over $10,000 that month as a deposit for an event at The Greenbrier.

The purpose of the thousands of dollars spent on hotels, meals and travel is unclear. A representative for Manchin's office did not return a request for comment.

Lawmakers often use their leadership PACs on issues that watchdogs say are lightly regulated outside of politics, according to research from nonprofit groups Issue One and the Campaign Legal Center.

"Issue One and Campaign Legal Center found that the leadership PACs of 120 members of Congress spent less than 50% on politics between January 2019 and December 2020," the research says. Manchin's PAC, according to the report, spent about 65% of the funds over that time period on what the researchers describe as politics, leaving nearly 35% to be put toward travel, hotels, meals, campaign staffing and other investments.

While leadership PACs are meant to help fund candidates running for office, the report from the nonprofits says it appears that many lawmakers simply use the money at fancy resorts and restaurants.

"Instead, such spending patterns give the impression that some politicians are simply raising money at one posh location to pay for the next fundraiser at the next fancy destination — creating an endless fundraising cycle at luxurious restaurants and resorts, much of which is paid for by special interest money, with no cost to lawmakers' own pocketbooks," the report says.

Manchin's PAC did donate some of its money to a political campaign, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The PAC sent $10,000 to Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto's, D-Nev., political operation in the early stages of the 2022 reelection campaign cycle. The Nevada race is expected to be competitive.

Manchin and Biden's agenda

Manchin has put himself in the thick of several policy debates that affect corporations in recent months, in no small part because he alone can swing a simple majority vote in the 50-50 Senate.

In June he voiced his opposition against the For the People Act, a bill that could make changes to future elections. The bill passed the House but has yet to go through the Senate.

When a debate ensued on Capitol Hill about raising taxes on corporations, Manchin said he wouldn't go above raising the corporate tax to 25% from 21%. After Democrats proposed enacting a billionaires tax, Manchin said he wasn't for it.

Manchin did end up supporting the Democratic plan to enact a 15% minimum corporate tax on declared income of large corporations. He also helped to craft and then advocated for the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan that became law last month.

In addition, the conservative Democrat voted with Republicans to block the Biden administration vaccine mandate for private businesses.

Manchin's most prominent role has come in shaping Biden's Build Back Better Act legislation that would transform social services for workers in the U.S., set the minimum tax rate on corporations and make the biggest federal investment ever in curbing climate change.

The senator pushed Democratic leaders to cut the bill's price tag in half, to $1.75 trillion from an initial $3.5 trillion.

When the White House announced a framework agreement on the bill in October, the administration noted that it came about after officials negotiated "in good faith" with Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a centrist Democrat from Arizona.

The West Virginia lawmaker never publicly supported the agreement, even as the House passed it in November along with the complementary infrastructure bill.