Canton Repository

September 13, 2004

Regula reverses stance on taking money from special interests

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- For more years than most lawmakers have been in Congress, Rep. Ralph Regula made it a policy not to accept campaign contributions from special-interest groups.

But in the last year, the 32-year House veteran has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from interest groups, raising questions about his ability to remain independent of their influence.

At the same time, the Bethlehem Township Republican has vaulted from fund-raising obscurity to one of the top cash distributors in Congress. Accepting special-interest money has helped him raise $1.2 million to share with other Republican candidates.

Regula’s plunge into fund raising and donating to other lawmakers coincides with his campaign to succeed Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young, R-Fla., as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Regula is in a tough three-way race for the powerful post.

First elected in 1972, Regula previously was among a minority of lawmakers who rejected donations from political action committees.

“I wanted to be as much as possible a free agent,” he said recently, explaining why he did not accept the money. “My job’s to represent the people.”

Regula, 79, also said he never felt the need to raise large sums of campaign cash because he never faced strong competition for re-election.

He technically accepted PAC donations in the past, since he accepted money from what are called “leadership PACs.” Those are lawmakers’ committees that raise money from special interests to share with other candidates.

But according to Federal Election Commission records, he returned donations from PACs representing special-interest groups, such as the National Education Association.

The congressman changed his stance in August 2003, when he created his own leadership PAC, which he named CARE.

Since then, he has raised nearly $300,000 from political action committees representing special-interest groups, FEC reports show.

He also has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in individual contributions, among them many donations from lobbyists and employees of organizations that seek influence in Congress.

And he has raised tens of thousands of dollars from business executives, health-care officials and college presidents in the 16th District, who have benefited from federal spending he has steered their way.

PACs and lobbyists, as well as some individuals, make donations to lawmakers to gain access and influence.

“They want to make sure when they have an issue before Congress they will find an open door when they go to the member,” said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a fund-raising watchdog.

Regula denies that contributions from special interests buy special treatment from him.

To him, “everybody’s special,” Regula said. “You got a problem, come to me. I’m going to try to help.”

He added: “I never ask anybody that comes here to my door, ‘Have you contributed or not?’ We’ve never taken that approach.”

Noble is skeptical.

“That’s what they all say,” he said. “I’m sure that they like to believe that, and it’s an important part of the system to believe that.

“But the reality is that when a member has limited amounts of time and when they (know about) the industries that are giving the contributions, they are going to make sure that those industries have access.”

“These businesses that are giving are very bottom-line oriented,” he said. “They’re doing this because they think it matters.”

About two dozen House Republican leaders, who make up the Republican Steering Committee, will choose the next appropriations chairman after the Nov. 2 election — if the GOP retains control of the House.

When Regula indicated his interest in the spot last year, he had the advantages of seniority and leadership of a key appropriations panel. Since 2001, Regula has chaired the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee of appropriations, which has a major say in how the federal government allocates billions of dollars for health care, education and job training.

But Regula suffered from never having done much fund-raising for the party.

His rivals for the post, Reps. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., have been raising money for other candidates for more than a decade.

Regula realized he couldn’t raise big money without tapping into PACs.

And in the past 13 months, he has bested both Rogers and Lewis. Regula has raised $1.2 million through his leadership PAC, while Rogers has collected $1.1 million and Lewis has raised $708,781.

The amount he has shared with other candidates this year ranks him sixth among more than 180 lawmakers who have leadership PACs, according to the most recent ranking by the Center for Responsive Politics. Regula has given away $478,000 since August 2003, more than either Lewis or Rogers.

Only a handful of congressional leaders, including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., have donated more to candidates.

Special-interest donations make up about 20 percent of the $1.2 million Regula had raised for his leadership PAC through the end of July. More than three-fourths of the contributions, $953,428, have come from individuals.

Of the itemized individual contributions of $200 or more, 62 percent came from Ohio.

On top of creating the leadership PAC, Regula opened his regular re-election fund to special-interest donations in response to increasing “pressure” to contribute more to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which helps finance Republican House candidates.

The national committee doesn’t disclose exact amounts, but committee chairmen reportedly are expected to contribute more than $100,000 a year to the group.

So far, Regula has collected $39,752 in special-interest money for his own re-election fund, which has raised a total of $104,660. He said he plans to give all the special-interest money to the NRCC or other candidates, rather than spend it on his own campaign.

Regula speaks at a couple of fund-raisers a week, either in Washington, D.C., or Ohio, to raise funds.

He expressed surprise at his success.

“It’s far exceeded my expectations because I’ve never put any pressure on people for money,” he said. “The only thing I can figure out is we’ve given good service and people appreciate it.

“I think people appreciate responsible government. They appreciate the fact that over the years I’ve never taken (money from) PACs or asked them for money.”

He said he doesn’t know or recognize the names of “the vast majority of my contributors.”

Many of the PACs that have contributed to Regula represent groups that have lobbied him for increased federal funding.

As an appropriations subcommittee chair, Regula prepares a bill that apportions more than $140 billion among health-care institutions, educational organizations and jobs programs. Every year, representatives of scores of these organizations come to his subcommittee to make their pitch for increased funding.

If he wins his bid to become full appropriations chairman, Regula would oversee the spending decisions for more than $800 billion in discretionary federal funds.

Among PACs donating to Regula is the American Society of Anesthesiologists, which gave him $5,000, the maximum allowed in a year.

“This was an opportunity for our broader organization to show our support for him,” said PAC director Manuel Bonilla. Bonilla said the PAC appreciates Regula’s support for medical liability reform and supports his work as chairman of an appropriations subcommittee.

Bonilla said the donation had nothing to do with Regula’s bid to become appropriations chair. But the group did not make a similar donation to Lewis or Rogers.

“I guess we’re just not that close to those members,” Bonilla said.

The most generous donation from lobbyists to Regula so far has been Van Scoyoc Associates, a major lobbying firm in Washington. Eighteen employees of the firm, including CEO H. Stewart Van Scoyoc, have given Regula $15,500.

The firm appears to favor Regula for appropriations chair, since it gave him more than it donated to Rogers or Lewis. But the company would not make Van Scoyoc or other lobbyists available to discuss the donations.

In a brief statement, Van Scoyoc spokesman Joe Martyak said Regula has “established relationships with many people, including members of our team and our clients.”