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‘Outsider’ candidate Santorum collected millions in corporate PAC money

Who bankrolled Rick Santorum?

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Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a town hall meeting in South Carolina.

David Goldman/AP

Rick Santorum the presidential candidate casts himself as a Washington outsider, “one of the most successful government reformers in our history,” according to his campaign bio, “taking on Washington's powerful special interests from the moment he arrived in our nation’s capital.”

But Rick Santorum the House and Senate member received more than $11 million in contributions from corporate and other special interest political action committees (PACs) over his career, according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation.

Among the largest donors are giants from the telecommunications, tobacco, and banking industries, the analysis found. The Center examined contributions to the Pennsylvanian’s congressional, senatorial and 2012 presidential campaigns — as well as his “America’s Foundation” and “Fight PAC” leadership PACs, entities set up by Santorum to aid others in their political campaigns.

Corporate PACs connected to telecommunications firms that became today’s AT&T Inc. poured more than $98,000 into Santorum’s campaign coffers, making the behemoth his top career patron.

Those donations may have been rewarded with support for the industry; in 1996 Santorum was one of 91 Senators to approve the heavily lobbied rewrite of telecommunications law that deregulated the industry.

Government watchdog group Common Cause decried the industry for “buying” the legislation.

Verizon Communications Inc. (and companies now part of the Verizon empire, including GTE, Bell Atlantic Corp., NYNEX and Verizon Wireless, a joint venture with British wireless giant Vodafone Group PLC), also made the top-ten (No. 6), with more than $75,000 in corporate PAC contributions.

Santorum’s second-highest total came from the Altria Group, including predecessor companies like the Philip Morris Companies and U.S. Tobacco. The makers of Marlboro cigarettes and Skoal tobacco have spent more than $96,000 in PAC funds to advance Santorum’s political career.

Santorum, a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, opposed increased restrictions on the tobacco industry — joining with 39 other Republicans and two tobacco-state-Democrats to kill the 1998 Universal Tobacco Settlement Act.

The bill aimed to “prevent the use of tobacco products by minors” and to “redress the adverse health effects of tobacco use.” It also would have incorporated a settlement requiring the industry to pay billions of dollars to state governments. After Congress failed to pass it, a narrower settlement was reached between the tobacco companies and state attorneys general.

In addition, documents made public as a result of the tobacco settlement with the states indicate that representatives from Philip Morris communicated with then-Rep. Santorum in 1994 during the debate on the Clinton health care reform proposals.

A March 20, 1994, interoffice memo notes that several company employees attending public meetings with Santorum reported “very positive” conversations aimed at ensuring his opposition to an increase in the federal excise tax on cigarettes.

Santorum’s Nos. 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8 backers were all financial services companies. Bank of America Corp. and companies it has acquired gave more than $92,000; PNC Financial Services Group Inc., a Pittsburgh-based bank, gave more than $87,000; JPMorgan Chase & Co. gave at least $76,000; Wells Fargo & Co. gave more than $73,000; and Bank of New York Mellon Corp. gave more than $69,000. 

Santorum served on the Senate’s Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and was one of 54 senators to back the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 (commonly known as Gramm-Leach-Bliley), a bank deregulation law signed by President Clinton.

That law eliminated several restrictions on the size and scope of banks, precipitating the mergers that allowed these and other financial services giants to merge and grow. The law has been blamed for setting the stage for the financial collapse of 2008 and resulting recession. Despite the banks’ largesse, Santorum has been a vocal opponent of the Troubled Asset Relief Program bank bailout, often using it as a club against other Republican candidates.

Rounding out the top 10 were GlaxoSmithKline PLC (more than $68,000), a pharmaceutical company, and energy powerhouse Exelon Corp. (more than $67,000). 

Corporate PACs are funded by employees who may give up to $5,000 per calendar year. The PAC itself may give $5,000 per election to candidates. These PACs are usually controlled by the corporation’s chief lobbyist.

It should be no surprise that Santorum’s donors are among the biggest corporate interests in the country.

The anti-tax lobbying group Club for Growth rates Santorum’s record on economic issues in the U.S. Senate as “above average,” while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave him a 100 percent rating for 2005.

And if elected, it is likely Santorum will continue his support for business.

On his website he promises to cut the corporate tax rate in half “to make our businesses competitive around the world,” eliminate the corporate income tax for manufacturers and sharply reduce taxes on repatriated foreign income. The Center recently reported on how the issue of repatriation is currently a cause célèbre for many large corporations. 

As Bloomberg reported recently, since his 2006 Senate re-election defeat, Santorum has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in directors’ fees and stock options from Universal Health Services Inc. Though it did not rank among his top patrons, Santorum received at least $11,500 from that company’s PAC.

Santorum later received a consulting contract with Consol Energy Inc., reportedly worth more than $140,000. The Pennsylvania-based company donated almost $20,000 to Santorum while he was in office. The Center previously reported on Consol’s long-wall mining operations in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Santorum's campaign didn't respond to a request for comment on this story.

Here is a list of Santorum’s top 10 political action committee donors:

  1. AT&T – at least $98,603
  2. Altria – at least $96,500
  3. Bank of America – at least $92,250
  4. PNC – at least $87,805
  5. JPMorgan Chase – at least $76,000
  6. Verizon – at least $75,165
  7. Wells Fargo – at least $73,050
  8. Bank of New York Mellon – at least $69,374
  9. GlaxoSmithKline – at least $68,305
  10. Exelon – at least $67,589

Source: Center for Public Integrity analysis of contributions from political action committees to Rick Santorum’s congressional, senatorial, and presidential campaign committees and leadership PACs: “America’s Foundation” and “Fight PAC.” Data was obtained from subscription-only CQ-MoneyLine, and covered Santorum’s first campaign, in 1989-1990. The data was retrieved Jan. 4, 2012. 

Correction, Jan. 18, 11:56am: Due to an editor's error, this story incorrectly said the Santorum campaign had responded to a request for comment. It did not.