CSX, owner of exploded train, spends millions on donations, lobbying

The Charleston Gazette | February 18, 2015 | Column by David Gutman

CSX Corp., the company whose oil train derailed, caught fire and exploded in Fayette County on Monday, is a prodigious political donor, giving millions of dollars to politicians of both parties, around the country and in West Virginia, and spending millions more every year to lobby those politicians after they’ve been elected.

Until 2015, every person elected to federal office in West Virginia, since at least 1990, had received money from the $35 billion transportation company, according to federal records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

CSX Corp.’s political action committee has given nearly $53,000 to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., since Capito got to Congress. That includes donations in every election cycle since 2000.

After the Kanawha Valley chemical leak last year, Capito said she would donate to charity the money that a Freedom Industries’ owner had given to her campaign, although that was only $500.

“In her more than 14 years in Congress, Senator Capito has always put West Virginians’ interests first. This terrible accident is no different,” stated Capito spokeswoman Amy Graham in response to questions about the CSX donations.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in Congress since only 2010, has gotten $30,700 from CSX.

“The senator has never allowed political donations to influence his decision making and he will continue to work with federal, state and CSX officials to determine the cause of this derailment and work to fix the problem so it never happens again,” said Jonathan Kott, Manchin’s spokesman.

The biggest West Virginia recipient of the railroad company’s largesse was former Rep. Nick Rahall, who for his last four years in office, was the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Rahall got more than $62,000 from CSX since 2000, including more than $22,000 in last year’s election.

Rahall lost last year to Rep. Evan Jenkins. Neither Jenkins nor his fellow Republican freshman, Rep. Alex Mooney, received money from CSX in 2014, but if history is any guide that will change in the 2016 elections.

The company’s PAC, officially called the CSX Corporation Good Government Fund, was a fairly consistent donor to former Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va. The PAC gave him $2,000 in 2002, $1,000 in 2006 and $1,000 in 2008. Then Mollohan lost the 2010 election and suddenly CSX’s allegiances switched. It gave $5,000 to Mollohan’s successor, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., in 2012.

McKinley did not respond to a request for comment. In total, he has received $9,500 from CSX affiliated groups and individuals since 2010, when he was first elected.

Similarly, before CSX became a consistent donor for Capito, the company gave money to her Democratic predecessor, Rep. Bob Wise, during every election cycle in the 1990s.

CSX’s bipartisan political beneficence isn’t limited to West Virginia. The corporation tends to favor Republican candidates (61 percent of its $2.5 million in 2014 donations went to Republicans), but its single biggest beneficiary in 2014 was the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which got nearly twice as much as its Republican counterpart.

In the 2010 elections, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, CSX donated more money to Democrats than Republicans, the only time it has done that since 1990.

“The company has lobbied heavily to protect its interests and its political action committee and employees typically give more money to the party in power,” the Center for Responsive Politics writes of CSX. Out of nearly 17,000 corporations and organizations that made political contributions in 2014, CSX was the 91st biggest donor, according to CRP.

CSX’s political spending doesn’t end once politicians get elected.

Since 1998 it has spent a minimum of $2 million every year lobbying Congress.

“CSX has spent millions of dollars lobbying against bills that would strengthen railroad antitrust laws, as well as bills that would give the federal government more power of oversight and regulation,” CRP wrote.

In total, CSX has spent more than $56.5 million on lobbying since 1998.

The company’s lobbyist spending peaked at more than $5 million in 2009, when it lobbied heavily against two major transportation bills.

One of the two major bills would have reauthorized funding for the Surface Transportation Board, which regulates, among other things, the economic activity of railroads.

In addition to funding the STB, it would have made it an independent organization, separate from the Department of Transportation, and it would have required the nation’s largest railroad companies to regularly report on their service and performance.

The bill had bipartisan support — two Democratic co-sponsors and two Republican co-sponsors in the Senate — but it never came close to passing.

The bill’s lead sponsor was former Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. Rockefeller, perhaps unsurprisingly, received relatively little support from CSX — just $2,500 since 2000, and nothing after 2009 when he became chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

In comparison, Rockefeller’s counterpart in the House, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., who chairs the House Transportation Committee, got $25,600 from CSX in 2014 alone.

CSX has lavished special attention on Shuster’s committee. Of its 50 incumbent members, 44 received donations from CSX in 2014.

All told, the corporation gave money to 313 federal candidates or officeholders in 2014, which accounts for nearly 60 percent of the seats in Congress.

Reach David Gutman at [email protected], 304-348-5119 or follow @davidlgutman on Twitter.


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