Manchin war chest could help, and hurt, if he runs in 2024
Donor list peppered with CEOs, but West Virginians gave less than 2 percent of haul in past two years
Should Sen. Joe Manchin III seek reelection next year, the West Virginia Democrat would almost certainly rely on a network of K Street lobbyists, corporate executives and out-of-state donors to help fund his campaign.
Those are among the leading contributors that helped Manchin add more than $8.2 million to his campaign account in 2021 and 2022, leaving him with $9.5 million to start this cycle, plus another $2.2 million to his separate leadership PAC.
As a swing vote on pivotal legislation, Manchin regularly attracts fundraising and lobbying attention from downtown. Lobbying firms and industry groups have snapped up a cadre of his former aides, including his former chief of staff, Lance West, who joined the American Petroleum Institute last month. Corporate PACs and CEOs are regular donors to his coffers. But those ties may also pose a liability on the campaign trail.
Republicans view Manchin’s seat as one of their party’s best pickup opportunities in 2024. Even though Manchin was born and raised in West Virginia and went to college there, GOP strategists are working to portray him as a Maserati-driving, Davos-attending elitist.
“Greetings from Davos,” read a recent campaign mailer that the National Republican Senatorial Committee fashioned as a postcard with Manchin’s photo on the front, a reference to his attendance this year at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss mountain resort. “Next time you see Joe Manchin, ask him if he had fun in Davos,” the text continued on the back of the postcard.
Manchin, who is 75, has not said whether he will run for reelection next year, and the state’s filing deadline isn’t until late January. Last time his term was up, he waited until January 2018 to announce. He has not entirely quelled speculation about a potential White House bid either. So far, three senators have said they will not seek reelection: Democrats Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Dianne Feinstein of California, as well as Indiana Republican Mike Braun, who is running for governor.
A recent poll commissioned by the GOP super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund, found that Manchin was running ahead of one announced potential challenger, Republican Rep. Alex X. Mooney, but behind the state’s current governor, Republican Jim Justice. Justice has said he is considering a run and stoked fresh speculation Wednesday with a tweet of news coverage of the poll.
Manchin has plenty of money to mount a reelection campaign. Of the more than $8 million raised in 2021 and 2022 for his reelection committee, about 80 percent came in large donations, mostly from people out of state, according to Federal Election Commission filings. About 16 percent of his campaign money came from corporate and industry PACs and other committees, while less than 2 percent came from small-dollar grassroots donations, the kind that have fueled the campaigns of some Democrats who refuse corporate PAC dollars.
Less than 2 percent of his donations came from people in West Virginia. Donors from 13 states and the District of Columbia gave more, with Texas and Florida topping the list.
“Based on Joe Manchin’s recent campaign finance records, it appears he’s more popular with DC lobbyists than West Virginia voters,” NRSC spokeswoman Maggie Abboud said in a statement.
Manchin’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
Those close to Manchin say that lobbying and campaign contributions don’t influence his votes or policy positions.
“Sen. Manchin has always been focused on serving the people of West Virginia and that is who he listens to as he makes decisions,” said his former top aide West, who is now vice president of federal government relations at the American Petroleum Institute.
Donors to his campaign committee, his Country Roads leadership PAC and other fundraising committees include some of his former aides who have decamped for K Street, including Patrick Hayes of KDCR Partners and Capitol Counsel’s Jonathan Kott.
Other lobbyist donors include former Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, who is now a senior policy adviser with Van Ness Feldman; Erik Huey of Platinum Advisors; Capitol Counsel’s Lyndon Boozer; and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck’s Doug Maguire, whom the firm describes on his bio as a “problem-solver for sovereign nations, private equity firms, international companies and technology start-ups facing high-stakes issues domestic and abroad.”
Robert Kraft, CEO of the New England Patriots; James S. Tisch, CEO of Loews Corp.; and Charles McNeil, CEO of NexGen Resources Corp., are also among the donors to Manchin’s committees.
Steve Roberts, president and CEO of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said Manchin’s ties to the business world were only a part of the senator’s vast network inside and outside of the Mountain State.
“He actually has connections that go in so many directions. Of course he’s got lots of connections in the business community,” Roberts said, adding that Manchin also had deep ties in organized labor, among Republicans and Democrats. “I feel certain if he runs, there will be important businesspeople and entities that would support him.”
When Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, visited West Virginia last month, Roberts said Manchin posted the chamber leader at the entry door. Roberts shook hands with coal executives, technology leaders and labor union organizers, among others, he said, recalling the variety of attendees.
“Joe Manchin is somebody who has tended his fences,” said Roberts, who declined to say whether he would support a Manchin reelection bid because the chamber has not yet taken a stance on the race. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2018 endorsed Manchin’s opponent after previously endorsing Manchin in a different cycle.
“I was at the grocery store last Friday, talking to a strong and fairly far to the right Republican member of the state Senate, who said, ‘I ran into Sen. Manchin, and we stood and had a long talk,’” Roberts said. “I do not know what Sen. Manchin is going to do. He has done so much for so long in West Virginia, he will have a loyal following whatever he decides to do.”
Lines of attack
Some of the GOP lines of attack stretch back years. But they still may have an impact given how the state has gotten more Republican. In 2020, for example, President Donald Trump won the state by nearly 40 percentage points.
Republicans are sure to raise some of his long-standing ties in the business community and corporate world, including the senator’s 2011 actions related to Mylan, a generic pharmaceutical company where his daughter, Heather Bresch, was a top executive. A former Manchin gubernatorial aide, Lara Ramsburg, was a registered lobbyist for the company, which was one of the state’s largest employers. It has since merged into a new company, Viatris. Republicans are also looking at Manchin’s defense of his daughter after Mylan raised insulin prices in 2016.
They’re also ready to criticize Manchin for more recent actions, such as his votes for pandemic-related stimulus legislation and a major climate and health care measure during the Biden administration.
“As an incumbent with six more years in office on his résumé, Manchin is more vulnerable than ever to being attacked for having ‘gone Washington’ and being part of the swamp,” said CQ Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales. “But the senator’s bigger problem is the partisanship of West Virginia. The state has shifted even more toward Republicans since the last time he was on the ballot.”