Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Political Blotter: Following the money on the auto bailout

This is a sampling of political writer Josh Richman's blog, The Political Blotter. Read more and post comments at

Dec. 15

House members who voted for the Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act last Wednesday averaged a lot more in campaign contributions from the auto industry in the past five years than those who voted against it, according to those wonderful number crunchers at Berkeley-based

But the industry's contributions to most of the Bay Area's House contingent — most of whom voted for the bailout — fall well below the averages, those statistics also show.

From January 2003 through October 2008, auto manufacturers, auto dealers and labor unions gave an average of $74,100 in campaign contributions to each representative voting in favor of the auto bailout, compared with an average of $45,015 to each representative voting against the bailout — 65 percent more money, on average, given to those who voted Yes. The final vote to pass the bill was 237-170, with 26 not voting and one voting "present." Senate Republicans immediately scuttled the bill, and the White House is now talking about finding money from the already-approved $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program to bail out Detroit.

"Big-money interest groups investing in political influence see sky-high returns, while 'we the people' Advertisementfoot the bill," executive director Daniel Newman said in a news release. "Votes in Congress once again align with the river of money that flows through our broken political system."

Among House Democrats, the 205 "yes" voters received an average of $74,846 each, about 19 percent more than those 20 voting "no," who received an average of $63,140. The 32 House Republicans voting "yes" received an average of $69,323 each, 63 percent more than the 150 voting "no," who received an average of $42,598.

In the greater Bay Area, only Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and Dennis Cardoza, D-Atwater, voted against the bill; Stark's auto-industry contributions over the past five years totaled $36,500, while Cardoza's totaled $53,700. As for the rest of the local delegation:

Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto — $32,000

Mike Honda, D-San Jose — $42,100

Barbara Lee, D-Oakland — $46,700

Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose — $22,500

Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton — $48,500

George Miller, D-Martinez — $122,800

Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco — $127,500

Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough — $11,000

Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo — $22,050

Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma — $70,750

No big surprises here. House Speaker Pelosi and Education & Labor Committee Chairman Miller are magnets for contributions from any industry, and McNerney managed to outstrip most of his other peers here because he was a freshman incumbent fighting what was supposed to be a competitive challenge this year. And in all these local cases, most of the money came from unions, not manufacturers.

Dec. 17

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, sent a letter today to retired U.S. Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, President-elect Barack Obama's nominee to serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, asking him to revisit his predecessors' decisions to close the VA hospital facility in Livermore. "The decision was made in spite of the fact that the Livermore VA serves more than 100,000 local veterans and is situated less than fifteen miles from Parks Reserve Forces Training Area (Camp Parks)," McNerney wrote.

"Camp Parks serves the training needs of more than 20,000 Army Reserve and California National Guard soldiers. The National Guard also has pending plans to expand its presence at Camp Parks. Many of these soldiers and their families have permanently settled in the region and find the Livermore campus to be a convenient and necessary resource upon their return to civilian life. Moreover, in FY2006, the Livermore VAMC served 11,433 inpatients and outpatients, had 55,973 outpatient encounters, 470 nursing home admissions, and racked up 35,831 bed days of care."

McNerney encouraged Shinseki to consider using Livermore as a site for expanded Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and major-depression treatment, given the "peaceful, serene setting." House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Bob Filner, D-San Diego, also favors keeping Livermore open, he noted.

"The process of phasing out the Livermore facility has ground to a standstill and virtually no action has been taken since Secretary Jim Nicholson left office," McNerney wrote. "I have no doubt that you will confront this issue head on and will work tirelessly on behalf of our nation's veterans. Once you are settled in your new post, I would very much like to arrange a meeting to discuss the Livermore facility."

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