With one eye on a possible 2010 re-election race against California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and the other firmly focused on the Environment and Public Works Committee, Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D) is taking in increasing campaign contributions from industrial sectors and their unions with business before her panel.
Boxer — who vaulted from a rank-and-file role on the committee to chairwoman following the 2006 elections and the retirement of then-ranking member Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) — has long had a contentious relationship with industry. According to aides, she continues to maintain a ban on accepting political action committee contributions from a number of sectors, including oil and gas companies.
Rose Kapolczynski, Boxer’s longtime campaign consultant, said Boxer has not changed her campaign fundraising strategy as a result of taking control of EPW and that she expects no major increases in contributions from industry once the cycle is completed.
“I’d be surprised if there’s a major difference in the amount … there may [just] be a difference in timing” of contributions by industry PACs, Kapolczynski said.
Kapolczynski also said that in addition to maintaining her long-standing policy of not taking PAC dollars from the oil and gas industry and its top-level executives, Boxer’s rise to power has had no impact on her policy positions. “Anyone who’s followed Barbara Boxer’s career over the years understands there is one thing you can count on — you know where she stands on the issues. And whether she’s in the minority or the chairman, that’s not going to change.”
But while environmentalists and other allies agree they have seen no significant sign that her long-standing commitment to their cause has waned with her ascension to power, Boxer has recorded what appears to be a significant uptick in funding from industries traditionally hostile to her philosophical positions.
An analysis of campaign contributions this year through Aug. 30 showed that Boxer has taken in $41,000 from political action committees connected to the energy, natural resources, construction and transportation industries.
According to CQ MoneyLine, the energy and natural resources sector so far this year ranks as Boxer’s second-largest source of PAC contributions, clocking in at $20,500.
Labor unions, which have donated $57,650 to her campaign this year, rank as her top source of PAC dollars, and $21,500 of those funds come from unions connected to industries with business before the committee.
Compared to the 2004 fundraising cycle — the last one in which Boxer was actively raising campaign funds, according to an aide — Boxer appears to be pulling significantly more cash from these sectors now than she was then. For instance, Boxer’s campaign reported $18,500 in total receipts from the energy and natural resources sector in all of 2003 and 2004, according to CQ MoneyLine, while the transportation sector donated $35,450, for a two-year total of $53,950 from these industries.
While partisan fighting has largely stalled much of her environmental agenda this year — for instance, it appears unlikely that an ambitious climate change bill will be passed — the EPW Committee has successfully moved legislation key to industry.
For example, Boxer successfully pushed through the Water Resources Development Act reauthorization bill this year. WRDA has long been a top priority for the construction and shipping industries, among others, since it provides billions in federal funding for public works projects such as levy construction and ship channel dredging. This year’s bill, which was vetoed by President Bush last month, included $20 billion in new federal spending.
Similarly, Boxer’s committee is expected to pass a “technical corrections” bill making changes to the 2005 transportation authorization bill. The corrections measure, in addition to making modifications to the original law with millions of dollars for transportation firms across the country, also includes tens of millions in new spending, including a “mag-lev” railway project connecting the coast of California to Las Vegas.
While lobbyists representing industries with business before Boxer’s committee declined to comment for this article, lobbyists and Democratic campaign strategists have noted a realignment now under way in Washington thanks to the 2006 elections that in many ways mirrors Boxer’s financial relationship with industry.
For more than a decade, energy, natural resource and transportation industries and their PACs have tended to favor Republicans, who held control of Congress from 1994 through 2006, both in terms of spending and in whom they chose as lobbyists. But in the wake of the 2006 elections and the sudden ascendancy of Democrats to power in both chambers, those alliances have begun to shift.
While Boxer has not shown any signs that her reliably progressive and pro-environmental positions are changing as a result of this new dynamic, one public interest advocate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Boxer and other Democrats clearly have begun reaping the benefits of power. “It’s good to be queen,” this source said.
Democratic Senate aides said the veteran lawmaker is in the early stage of gearing up for her 2010 re-election fight, which could include a high-profile — and prohibitively expensive — showdown with Schwarzenegger, and that the increases in her fundraising are a reflection of that reality.
Kapolczynski acknowledged the specter of a Schwarzenegger run but noted that any statewide race in California is a costly affair and nothing should be read into her donation increases other than the fact that she is prepping for her next re-election campaign. As a result, “she needs to prepare for a really tough race,” she said.
Although state GOP sources said it appears unlikely at this point Schwarzenegger will make a run for the Senate, one Republican strategist noted the governor is infamous for holding his plans close to the vest until the last moment.
“This is a guy who didn’t tell hardly anyone he was going to run for governor until he did,” the strategist noted. “He likes surprise and likes the theatrics of it all. He will keep everyone guessing till bitter end, I think. [But] everything I’ve seen so far is focused on being governor.”