$250,000 in the coffers: Defense firms give most donations to Durbin's re-election bid

News-DemocratMay 10, 2014 

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), in a 2013 file photo.

DERIK HOLTMANN — dholtmann@bnd.com

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, has emerged the top recipient of campaign donations from the defense industry in donations from political action committees and individual donors connected to the defense industry.

Durbin, D-Illinois, is the Senate's No. 2 Democrat and an East St. Louis native. Since being named to the subcommittee chairmanship in early 2013, Durbin has collected $250,000 from defense contractors, easily surpassing U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas ($183,000) and U.S. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., ($175,550), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, according to an analysis by the nonprofit group OpenSecrets.org.

What's more, some of Durbin's biggest contributions since Jan. 1, 2013, have come from a Who's Who of big defense contributors, including Northrop Grumman ($63,000), Lockheed Martin ($61,200), Boeing ($45,750) and General Dynamics ($29,500).

Durbin is running for re-election in November and faces state Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Chicago.

Dan Curry, a campaign spokesman for Oberweis, decried the amount of money flowing into Durbin's campaign from defense contractors.

"Career politician Dick Durbin has a virtual gusher of special interest money flowing into his campaign treasury -- defense contractors, IRS employees, trial lawyers," Curry wrote in a statement.

Durbin will "use that money to falsely portray himself as a man of the people, unless you define people as insiders feeding on our tax dollars," Curry said.

Ron Holmes, the press secretary for the Durbin campaign, said the figures are "misleading" in that they fail to draw the distinction between defense contractors' PAC contributions to Durbin and the contributions the defense contractors' employees make to Durbin on their own.

Holmes also noted that the individual donor limit to a federal candidate is $2,600 in a primary election and $2,600 in a general election, while the limits for an organizational PAC are $5,000 in a primary election and $5,000 in a general election.

Holmes noted that since Durbin filed his petitions for his re-election campaign, he's raised nearly $1.4 million from "a grassroots apparatus that includes 7,484 donors."

"Even more impressive, 88 percent of the campaign's donors made small-dollar contributions of $200 or less and more than half gave to our campaign for the first time," Holmes wrote.

Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for campaign finance reform group Common Cause, of Washington, D.C., said the fact so much defense contractor money is going to Durbin is a symptom of a broken campaign finance system.

"This is how the system works, unfortunately," Boyle said. "It's not illegal. It doesn't look good. This is how Washington works."

Boyle noted that Durbin is one of the leading Congressional voices for reforming current campaign finance laws, especially in light of a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have struck down key limits on campaign donations to candidates.

But Durbin still has to play the game of getting re-elected, just like everyone else in Congress, according to Boyle.

"He's working within the existing system and you can't fault him for that," Boyle said. "He's in Congress, and he wants to stay in Congress. ... He's working within the system, and it's legal and everyone's doing it. It's hard to have someone to disarm basically."

In terms of overall fundraising, Durbin is enjoying a big lead over the independently wealthy Oberweis.

Since Jan. 1, 2013, Durbin has raised $4.44 million, with $2.9 million coming from individual donations and more than $1 million coming from party committee contributions, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Oberweis, an investment manager and founder of a dairy empire who has a personal net worth of between $12 million and $60 million, has raised $256,447 in donations, and loaned his campaign $500,000, FEC records show.

Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 239-2533.

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