Industry donors

Profiles of the top industry donors in 2003 and 2004

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The Center profiled select industries giving to state political party and caucus committees that are not directly related to the two major parties to better explain their support of certain policies and politicians at the state level in 2003 and 2004.

Attorneys and Law Firms

People: Jon Haber, chief executive officer, Association of Trial Lawyers of America—former chief of staff to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, former special counsel to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation; Wayne Hogan, partner; Terrell Hogan—2002 candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives (D-Fla.)

Places: Among trial lawyers, Hogan is the largest individual contributor to state parties and has mostly supported Democratic candidates, such as former Sen. John Edwards. Many prominent trial lawyers are Republicans, though their organization tends toward Democrats. Sometimes ATLA finds it tough to choose between the two parties: the U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania featured two candidates favored by trial lawyers, Republican incumbent Arlen Specter and Democratic challenger Joseph Hoeffel.

Politics: ATLA, the world's largest trial advocacy bar with more than 56,000 attorneys, has fought to protect plaintiffs' access to the justice system, especially in regard to personal injury and medical malpractice. The trial lawyer group is a significant lobbying force in Washington, D.C.—spending at least $27 million since 1998—in battling Congress' efforts to restrict tort plaintiffs' access to the courts. Tort reform was a prominent issue around the country during the 2004 election season, with many Republicans on the campaign against "frivolous lawsuits."

Real Estate Developers & Subdividers

People: Jim Pederson, founder, Pederson Group—chair, Arizona Democratic Party; L. Alma (Al) Mansell, president, National Association of Realtors—president of the Utah Senate

Places: The real estate industry's funds have concentrated in Arizona because of Jim Pederson, a commercial developer who has supported Democrats in his state as well as nationwide. NAR has spread its contributions more evenly across the country with affiliated organizations in every state. The realtors' group is the largest professional organization in the United States with one million members, according to its Web site. NAR is a lobbying force in Washington, D.C., as well—spending more than $63 million since 1998.

Politics: Pederson committed much of his own money to fund a successful 2000 ballot initiative to create an independent commission to conduct Arizona's congressional and legislative redistricting. It is now rumored that the developer might run for election against Arizona's junior senator, Republican Jon Kyl, in 2006. NAR has broader goals, such as keeping banks out of the real estate industry, as well as seeking exemptions from state regulation for small business health plans. The realtors' association has a political action committee, RPAC, and employs a political field staff to keep up grassroots advocacy at the state and congressional-district level.

Teachers Unions

People: Reg Weaver, president, National Education Association—appointed to several education policy commissions by Illinois Gov. James Thompson; Edward J. McElroy, president, American Federation of Teachers

Places: California topped the list of education interests' political contributions, followed closely by New York. With the nation's largest number of public school students as well as the highest average salary for teachers, according to an NEA study, the Golden State has become a battleground for education. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has broadcast radio ads to counter criticism by NEA's largest state affiliate, the California Teachers Association, of his proposed education budget. Both the NEA and the AFT have since voted for dues hikes to raise millions of dollars to battle the California Governor's reforms and other calls for change across the country.

Politics: The NEA is the nation's largest teachers union with 2.7 million members; the AFT has 1.3 million members. Both trade unions are politically active and have waded into various issues, and not just education. The NEA lobbies for school resources and protection of school employees' rights while opposing private school tuition vouchers. AFT hosts a legislative action center on its Web site that calls for more funding of the No Child Left Behind Act as well as advocating against private accounts for Social Security.

Insurance Companies, Brokers & Agents

People: Peter B. Lewis, chairman, Progressive Corporation

Places: Florida has become a major destination for the insurance industry's political contributions, and for good reason. The state has suffered a series of damaging storms—four major hurricanes in 2004 alone—and homeowners have turned to their insurance plans more often than ever. Nearly 58,000 claims from last year's storms are still unresolved. Ever since Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami in 1992, insurance companies have raised their rates frequently in Florida, while state legislators have failed to pass a comprehensive plan to ease homeowners' worries.

Politics: Lewis has become an elite fundraiser for Democrats at the state and federal level. He has spent more than $23 million on liberal 527 groups since 2000. Though insurance companies tend to drift Republican, contributing almost two thirds of their political cash to the GOP, Lewis remains an exception. Because of his political donations, Progressive has been earmarked as a preferred provider by a liberal San Francisco, Calif., non-profit group, www.buyblue.org. He also has detractors: a Web site,www.boycottprogressive.com, since defunct, popped up during the election year, imploring visitors to boycott the company.

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