There was plenty of outrage on Capitol Hill last week over the executive bonuses paid out by AIG after getting federal bailout money. But another money trail could make voters just as angry: the campaign dollars to members of Congress from banks and firms that have received billions via the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
A NEWSWEEK review of recent filings with the Federal Election Commission found that the political action committees of five big TARP recipients doled out $85,300 to members in the first two months of this year—with most of the cash going to those who serves on committees who oversee the TARP program. Among them: Bank of America (which got $15 billion in bailout money) sent out $24,500 in the first two months of 2009, including $1,500 to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and another $15,000 to members of the House and Senate banking panels. Citigroup ($25 billion) dished out $29,620, including $2,500 to House GOP Whip Eric Cantor, who also got $10,000 from UBS which, while not a TARP recipient, got $5 billion in bailout funds as an AIG "counterparty." "This certainly appears to be a case of TARP funds being recycled into campaign contributions," says Brett Kappel, a D.C. lawyer who tracks donations. (A spokesman for Cantor did not respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for Hoyer said it's his "policy to accept legal contributions.")
The cash flow is already causing angst inside the Beltway. "The last thing I want to do is wake up one morning and see our PAC check being burned on C-Span," said one bank lobbyist, who asked not to be identified because of the issue's sensitivity. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Financial Services chair Rep. Barney Frank both said recently they won't take donations from TARP recipients. But House Democratic fundraisers have quietly passed the word that the party's campaign committee will resume accepting them—down the road, though; not right now. Said one fundraiser, who also requested anonymity, "These are treacherous waters."