House Democrats Circumvent Anti-Corporate PAC Pledge

Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats | Getty
April 9, 2019

House Democrats are accepting thousands of dollars from big business lobbyists, despite pledging not to accept corporate PAC donations.

Of the 43 House Democrats that have disavowed corporate PAC money, a large number have taken personal donations from corporate lobbyists or have allowed such individuals to host fundraisers on their behalf, as first reported by Politico.

On of those Democrats, freshman congressman Gil Cisneros (Calif.), permitted lobbyists representing international conglomerates like AT&T, Microsoft, Comcast, Pfizer, Verizon, and Wells Fargo to host a fundraiser on his behalf in March. The event netted Cisneros a total of $15,000 as he gears up to seek reelection in a prime swing seat next year.

The top-dollar donations are nothing new for Cisneros. During his 2018 campaign, Cisneros raised more than $436,000 from large dollar donors in the finance, insurance, and real estate industries, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Some of Cisneros's top campaign contributors were employed by corporate powerhouses like Bain Capital and Goldman Sachs. Of his total fundraising, more than $1.6 million was from large individual contributors, while only $569,000 came from small donors.

Cisneros took the money even though he campaigned on ending the "corrosive" impact of special interest spending on "democracy."

"I will not accept any PAC money to my campaign....We need to do much more to get corporate money out of politics," Cisneros said shortly after announcing his campaign in 2017. "Corporate special interests have dominated our politics for too long, and Congress needs to enact real campaign finance reform."

The 2018 contest in California's 39th congressional district, which Cisneros won narrowly after a week-long recount, was the most expensive non-special election House race in history.

A number of the same lobbyists that hosted Cisneros's fundraiser also held one for freshman representative Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico. Torres Small, who lambasted "big money in politics" when rejecting corporate PACs during her 2018 campaign, has taken more than $310,000 from individuals affiliated with the securities and investment industry. Of the more than $4 million she raised total last cycle, more than 61 percent ($2.92 million) came from large individual donors employed by the likes of Microsoft and Sony.

Other freshman Democrats disavowing corporate PACs are following a similar playbook. Rep. Cindy Axne (D., Iowa), who promised to prioritize the interests of voters over corporations while campaigning, recently held a fundraiser at the office of Cornerstone Government Affairs. The firm, one of Washington, D.C.'s top lobbying shops, counts high-profile companies such as Boeing, Citigroup, and Alphabet Inc.—the parent company of Google—among its client roster.

It is unclear how much the $2,800 a head fundraiser raised for Axne's reelection campaign as the FEC reporting deadline for the first quarter has yet to pass. A number of individuals tied to the firm's top clients, however, have donated heavily to Axne. In 2018, individuals employed by Alphabet donated more than $53,000 to Axne's campaign. At the same time, Alphabet paid Cornerstone $240,000 for lobbying services.

Top lobbyists and government affairs professionals, according to Politico, are taking note of the "double standard" being utilized by House Democrats.

"Our position thus far is if you don't feel like our employees' money is good enough for you, our executives' money is not, either," a lobbyist told the outlet.