Rep. Richard Neal (right) and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Why Political Action Committees Now Love Rep. Richard Neal

April 17, 2017

Two years ago, Congressman Richard Neal of Springfield, Massachusetts, raised $165,000 in what was, for him, a pretty typical first three fundraising months of the election cycle. This time, things are a little different. A whopping $438,000 has fallen into his campaign account this year, according to Federal Election Commission documents filed late last week.

Neal’s newfound popularity with donors is not a difficult mystery to crack. Heading into this two-year Congressional session, he became the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. Though his party is in the minority, that still puts Neal in a powerful position to influence a lot of big-ticket items — including the huge tax reform bill being worked on right now.

Hence, a windfall of $328,600 from various political action committees (PACs) came to Neal in the first three months of this year. (Neal received the other roughly $110,000 from individual donors.) He had high-dollar fundraising receptions at Sixth Engine and the Diageo Townhouse in Washington, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He also had a little get-together at a Bruins-Capitals hockey game that people could attend for a $2,500 suggested contribution. 

Clearly, there’s a lot more interest in paying for those tickets now. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that contributors are getting anything from Neal for the money — even to the extent that he has anything to give as the top Democrat on the Republican-led committee. Each PAC is limited to $5,000, which hardly stands out in Neal’s $3 million war chest. It would be hard for Neal to spend that much on re-election in western Massachusetts if he had a challenge serious enough to make him try.

PACs have always been a major source of campaign funds for Neal, who has been on the Ways & Means Committee since 1993. And it’s been no secret that he’s wanted to eventually ascend to the top Democratic post on that committee.

But that didn’t always look like a certain path — not even a few months ago, when then-ranking member Sander Levin announced that he would relinquish the position, amid House Democratic infighting over leadership. Many expected California Congressman Xavier Becerra to outmaneuver Neal as Levin’s successor — until Becerra unexpectedly accepted an appointment as California’s Attorney General in early December.

Of the 163 PACs that have given to Neal so far this year, 30 represent financial industry entities (including life insurers) that have obvious interests in the tax changes being considered by the Ways and Means Committee. Others represent energy and utility companies, telecommunications, defense and a variety of other industries ranging from thoroughbred racing to funeral directors. Big corporations whose PACs gave to Neal include Altria, Amazon, BASF, Dow Chemical, FedEx, General Electric, Lowe’s, Pepsi, Philips, S.C. Johnson, Target and Walt Disney.

Nearly a third of the PAC contributions —  just over $100,000 — came from health care, pharmaceutical and biomedical PACs. They had the most immediate concerns: Ways and Means was one of three committees to mark up and vote on the Republican bill to replace ObamaCare. Neal, as ranking Democrat, was visibly involved in that process, even attending top-level White House meetings.

His contributions from individuals reveal more health care industry interest — including nearly $20,000 from 40 urologists.

And a dozen or so of the PACs giving to Neal — some fairly obscure to the average observer — represent companies engaged in engineering, construction and other work that stand to benefit from the big infrastructure investment bill promised by the Trump administration.

So far, all of those contributions are going into Neal’s personal campaign committee. He has another committee, called Madison PAC, which he can use to help other Democrats with their campaigns. (This is a common way for high-ranking members of Congress to spread funds around and earn gratitude from his peers.) Neal hasn’t made much use of Madison PAC in recent years, and only eight PACs have given to it so far this year. Expect that to change, as PACs max out to Neal’s campaign committee but still want to show their newfound affection for the Springfield politician.

Moulton leads the local race for cash

Neal’s haul was not the biggest of the Massachusetts House delegation. Rising star Seth Moulton, who has been getting a lot of national TV exposure this year, took in $472,827 in the first three months of the year.

Much less of that came from PACs, but a hefty chunk came from people in the financial industry, according to their reported employment. That includes a group of New Yorkers among Moulton’s "$1000-or-more" donors, who cite J.P. Morgan, Barclays, Blackstone Group and other investment firms as their source of income.

He also had high-dollar “cooking class” and “whiskey tasting” fundraisers in Washington. 

Moulton, who had no challenger in 2016, has more than a million dollars in his account. Joe Kennedy — a fundraising superstar — has close to $3 million after taking in more than $380,000 in the quarter. And Katherine Clark has surpassed the million-dollar war-chest mark, thanks in part to a joint fundraising committee that splits money between her and Niki Tsongas.

Tsongas, with barely a half-million banked, leads only Jim McGovern among the Bay State’s House members. Bill Keating has over $800,000; Michael Capuano has around $750,000.

Only one Massachusetts challenger reported raising money this early: Brianna Wu, who is taking on South Boston’s Stephen Lynch. And she out-raised him for the quarter by a slim margin: Wu reported $21,714 in contributions, and Lynch reported $21,665. It was an unusually low figure for Lynch, but he has a million dollars already sitting in his committee.

Of course, none of them is in the same fundraising ballpark as the state’s U.S. Senator up for re-election in 2018. Elizabeth Warren announced that she raised more than $5.2 million in the first three months of 2017 and now has $9.2 million in her campaign account.


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