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Neal’s leadership PAC reports record fundraising with backing from corporate donors

Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal speaks with reporters.
Josh Landes
Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal speaks with reporters.

As U.S. Representative Richard Neal of Massachusetts’ 1st district prepares to run for his 18th term, his leadership political action committee closed out 2021 with a record-setting six month period. The Madison PAC, formed in 2006, reported raising $418,000 in 2021, with 90 of the 106 donations it received coming from PACs from corporations or business trade associations. While Neal himself cannot use money from the PAC on his own campaign, he can donate it to the campaigns of his fellow Democrats. Donald Shaw is a reporter and the co-founder of Sludge, an independent news outlet dedicated to investigating lobbying and money in politics. He spoke with WAMC about Neal’s fundraising efforts, what it means for his re-election campaign, and how it reflects his relationship with corporate donors.

SHAW: Neal’s leadership committee raised $418,000 in the second half of 2021, according to a new FEC filing, and that's the most that committee of his ever raised in a six-month period. He also reported his campaign committee’s Q4 receipts, and that came in at $656,000, which is actually a slight decline from his fundraising from the last quarter. But going back to the leadership PAC donations, he took in 106 donations, and 90 of them came from corporate PACs or from trade associations from that represent corporate PACs. So, you know, it's a continuation of his heavy reliance on corporations for his campaign and leadership PAC funding.

WAMC: Congressman Neil distinguishes himself among his colleagues for his corporate backing. Can you offer a little bit of a background on that?

Last cycle, Neal was the most heavily reliant member of Congress on corporate PACs for his campaign fundraising. This cycle, he’s fallen back a bit. He's 14th amongst all House members in corporate PAC money. But you know, he's raising money from the PACs of companies like Amazon, Bank of America, Verizon, Lockheed Martin, major companies that have business before his committee. He's the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, which is in charge of writing the tax code, including corporate tax issues, and companies like Amazon that give him money- Amazon's been paying single digit or negative tax rates in recent years as it's been just making record profits. So, there's definitely relevance between some of his donors and his work in Congress.

This news came after last month's announcement that his longtime aide Billy Tranghese is going to be retiring from working in Congress and taking a position with a lobbying firm, Platinum Advisors. We talk a lot about corporate funding for politicians and this concept of a revolving door from the public and private sectors- Can you sort of put that in a larger context of Congress? Is a move like that rare for a top serving congressional aide like Tranghese?

No, it's not rare at all. It's a very common career trajectory for someone to spend some years in Congress and then to leverage that experience and cash in on K Street with a lucrative lobbying gig where they can represent corporate clients. And they already have cozy relationships with their former employers and other offices on the Hill. So they're very valuable for corporate lobbying groups and companies that are seeking to influence policymaking.

With Neil making his intentions to run for reelection clear, what does this news about his fundraising say about his odds in the forthcoming election? Obviously, he defended his seat successfully in the hotly contested 2020 Democratic primary against former Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse. What does this project forward for Neal?

That's interesting. I mean, he certainly has no trouble of bringing in corporate money through his campaign. So you know, he'll have his campaign coffers topped off. The increase in funding to his leadership PAC, that money usually is doled out to other members of the caucus in order to secure leadership positions. So there's basically a dues-paying system, or you have to transfer money to the rest of your caucus in order to elevated either through committee positions or through leadership. So, you know, it's a possible indication that you're looking to climb the ranks into a leadership role, or at least secure his position as the powerful Ways and Means chairman.

In a statement to WAMC, the Neal campaign said the Ways and Means chair “makes no apologies for doing absolutely everything he can do to help Democrats keep the House in 2022 and out of the hands of radical Republicans and their extremist agenda,” adding he has raised $15 million to win and protect the House, resulting in “the most diverse Democratic Caucus ever and delivered on legislation investing in American families, workers, and infrastructure while expanding access to affordable, quality healthcare.”

Neal was re-elected in 2020 after a high-profile Democratic primary campaign against then-Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse. His redrawn district is adding some communities to the east while dropping a few in the northern stretch of the current 1st district.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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