In a recent television ad, U.S. Rep. John Barrow posed with constituents to talk about the times he has been at odds with both parties.
“Folks in Washington don’t like me being independent,” the Augusta Democrat tells the camera. “But you’re the one who counts.”
Judging by his campaign bank account, Washington likes Barrow just fine. While he might have angered both parties at times, Barrow has gotten substantial support from Democratic and Republican-leaning groups alike as he faces a difficult re-election test against Republican state Rep. Lee Anderson of Grovetown.
More than 60 percent of Barrow’s money this cycle has come from PACs, and the donations show the different goals of Washington interests who typically are at odds with one another.
According to data compiled by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Center for Responsive Politics, of the 59 political action committees that have donated the legal maximum of $10,000 to Barrow’s campaign, 40 give more to Republicans than to Democrats. Twelve of the PACs give at least 70 percent of their political donations to Republicans.
Barrow was one of just four Democrats to get money from Koch Industries’ PAC. The conglomerate is owned by brothers David and Charles Koch, who have spent millions backing the tea party and other conservative causes.
Barrow said the bipartisan donations are a reflection of his record as one of the most centrist members of Congress.
“As a result of working with folks in the business community I have earned the support of folks who care enough about the process and who want to make things better,” he said in an interview.
Anderson spokesman Ryan Mahoney had a different interpretation: “Honestly I think he’s a slick politician and when he’s in Washington, especially when he was watching the new district being drawn, he worked those groups and he said all the right things,” Mahoney said. “And every now and then he votes the right way.”
Mahoney said Barrow’s backing from business organizations is “a bit disingenuous” because many of those groups oppose the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law, which Barrow voted for, and the Affordable Care Act, which Barrow voted against repealing — after he had voted against the initial law.
Barrow has amassed a substantial cash advantage, reporting $1.19 million in his account as of Sept. 30, compared with $174,000 for Anderson.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz have donated big sums to Barrow to protect a member of their team, knowing that an occasionally wayward Democrat is better for them than a Republican.
GOP-leaning groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Rifle Association have endorsed and donated to Barrow because he votes their way. Like many interest groups, they keep scrupulous scorecards of congressional votes, and Barrow is one of few Democrats they grade high.
The Chamber has proven to be a key Barrow ally. It has spent $100,000 on an advertising campaign in the district promoting him. Spokeswoman Blair Latoff said Barrow was one of five House Democrats to score over 70 percent on the Chamber scorecard and receive an automatic endorsement. By contrast, in 2011 only one House Republican scored less than 70 percent.
“We don’t look at the candidate’s party affiliation,” Latoff wrote in an email. “Our voter education efforts are aimed at supporting pro-business candidates so they can advocate for policies in Congress that will grow the economy and create jobs.”
Barrow touted his NRA endorsement in an advertisement by cradling his guns. In its endorsement, the NRA cited Barrow’s votes to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, in favor of a bill allowing people to carry concealed weapons in any state if they have a permit in their home state, and to bar the administration from centralizing gun-purchase records.
Barrow insisted he does not pay any mind to interest-group scorecards when he votes, but he said those scorecards are often a better indication of where a member stands than simple statistics such as how often Barrow votes with Democratic leadership. That’s because such party-vote statistics include a slew of noncontroversial votes on naming post offices and the like.
Businesses that back candidates typically do so when a member is making decisions that affect them. Barrow serves on the Energy and Commerce committee, which covers wide swaths of the economy.
David Sutton, a spokesman for Altria, the parent company for tobacco maker Philip Morris, wrote in an email that two reasons the company supports political candidates are “the candidate serves on a legislative committee with jurisdiction over issues of interest to Altria [or] the recipient understands the legislative and regulatory issues related to Altria’s businesses.”
Altria’s PAC gave Barrow $10,000, even though it gives 80 percent of its money to Republicans. Sutton declined to comment on individual donations.
Anderson has raised about $100,000 from PACs, compared to Barrow’s $1.5 million. Anderson’s PAC money comes primarily from other Republican officeholders in Georgia and Washington — including House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who have traveled to Georgia to raise money for Anderson. John Deere and the International Pizza Hut Franchise Holders Association were among the few business PACs in his corner.
Craig Holman, who lobbies on ethics and campaign-finance for the nonprofit group Public Citizen, said the disparity shows the power of incumbency.
“Generally PACs and business interests will support the incumbents disproportionately, no matter who the incumbent is and so it doesn’t matter what party they come from,” Holman said.
“The whole purpose of campaign contributions is to buy access with a person who is in a position of authority to weigh in on that business interest.”
The independent spending — mostly on television attack ads — has been more even. Anderson had the benefit of $1.9 million in independent spending, to $1.7 million for Barrow, through Friday, according to Federal Election Committee filings.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has provided the bulk of Anderson’s outside support, while Barrow has gotten a boost from Center Forward, a Super PAC supporting centrist Blue Dog Democrats, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Every penny of outside spending has come from groups in the Washington area.
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