Who Bankrolls Congress? John Boehner Edition

By Josh Israel, Aaron Mehta, and Caitlin Ginley
The Center for Public Integrity

Long before Congressman John Boehner of Ohio rose to his current position as House Republican Leader, he created the "Thursday Group" -- a weekly discussion around a U.S. Capitol conference room table with conservative and business lobbyists, including representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other influential trade associations. In Washington, those sorts of relationships often pay dividends. So perhaps it's no surprise that Boehner's top career donors include a lobbyist-turned-tobacco executive, two former CEOs of an insurance company, the head of a coal company, and a former telecommunications lobbyist, as well as corporate political action committees for two tobacco behemoths, two shipping companies, and four financial services firms and associations.

Those are the results of the Center for Public Integrity's review of CQ Moneyline information on Boehner's contribution history for both campaign accounts and leadership PACs, dating back to his first federal race two decades ago. The Center's probe of Boehner's finances marks the third in a series of pieces on top donors to Congressional leaders.

Boehner, 60, whose district is in southwestern Ohio, began his career working in the packaging and plastics industry. After two years on the Union Township Board of Trustees and six in the Ohio House of Representatives, Boehner made his first bid for federal office in 1990. Though he raised and spent less than $750,000, he defeated the scandal-plagued incumbent Republican in a primary and easily won the Ohio's 8th Congressional District seat in the general election. He has won more than 60 percent of the vote in his heavily Republican district in every election since.

Following the 1994 Republican takeover in the House of Representatives, Boehner became chairman of the Republican Conference -- the number four position in the leadership -- but after the 1998 elections, he lost the post. The Ohio Republican remained active in Congress and in 2006 returned to the leadership, elected by his party to be Republican Majority Leader. Since his party lost its majority following the November 2006 elections, Boehner has served as House Minority Leader.

Boehner ran for his leadership post on a platform of lobbyist reform, telling Fox News Channel: "I've got a long record of ... reforming Congress, and I think we need more reforms to make sure that there's transparency in the relationship between those who lobby us and members themselves." But much of his campaign funding continues to come from lobbyists. Boehner's Freedom Project leadership PAC has distributed millions of dollars -- mostly raised from other PACs -- to Republican Congressional candidates. Between his PAC and campaign committee, Boehner has taken in more than $30 million in campaign cash. His close ties with lobbyists, however, have turned off even the occasional House Republican -- then-Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut opposed Boehner's leadership bid in 2006, noting "The problem John faces is that he's so close to K Street.."

Boehner's career has been marked by aggressive support of business interests. He has backed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's position 93 percent of the time through his Congressional career. The AFL-CIO says he voted against their interests on every vote he cast in 2008 and 2009, and, as of 2008, backed the labor coalition just 5 percent of the time over his career. Boehner authored the 2006 Pension Protection Act, which expanded tax breaks for those who invest in retirement savings plans, and was also behind the law that implemented the U.S. free trade agreement with Oman. He has been a strong opponent of anti-tobacco legislation as well. While Ohio has no tobacco manufacturing facilities, the most recent data available showed the Buckeye State was home to 475 tobacco farms in 2007, though the total has declined dramatically in recent years. Boehner has also reliably opposed the Obama administration -- on the stimulus package, health care reform, Children's Health Insurance Program reauthorization, and financial regulation. One hundred days into Obama's administration, Boehner said the Democratic legislative agenda made him "want to throw up."

Boehner's top five individual contributors combined to provide at least $263,900, or just over two percent of his individual grand total. The top ten PAC supporters kicked in at least $1.77 million, nearly eleven percent of his all-time PAC total.

When reached for a comment, Don Seymour, a spokesman for Boehner, said "Mr. Boehner has been blessed with generous supporters who share his vision of freedom, reform, and a smaller, more accountable government, and who know he's a principled public servant who always does what's right for his constituents and our country."