Only one week after Sen. Mitch McConnell took the CEO of Delta Air Lines to breakfast in the exclusive Senate Dining Room last month, the airline executive and his wife wrote $10,000 worth of checks to help fund McConnell's political operation.
The donations, which were reported to the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, made Rick and Susan Anderson the largest contributors to McConnell's Bluegrass Committee in July. Delta Air Lines' PAC contributed another $2,500 within days of the breakfast.
The proximity between the meal on Capitol Hill and the date of the donations provides a window into how modern Washington works. It's a place where incumbent lawmakers, especially those who—like McConnell—face a serious reelection fight, are relentlessly courting contributors at all hours to fund multimillion-dollar political campaigns.
McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said no money was solicited over breakfast in the Capitol. "Of course not," she said. Asked if McConnell regularly takes donors to meals at the formal Senate Dining Room, she said, "No, Richard Anderson is a friend."
Still, Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign money, noted of the meal, "This is the kind of rare access that most of us will never experience."
"Who makes a good enough breakfast companion for a sitting senator in a highly competitive reelection campaign to take time out of their busy day?" Krumholz said. "It never hurts if the person can follow up with a donation, and all the better if it can be a sizable one."
Typically, a senator's guest in the sanctuary of the Senate Dining Room would remain undisclosed. But McConnell's meal with Anderson was included in a piece about the declining importance of the dining room as a place where bipartisan deals can be brokered. Here's the scene painted by Ashley Parker in The New York Times:
One morning last month, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, the minority leader, was dining with Richard H. Anderson, the chief executive of Delta Air Lines. When the two men stood up, Mr. Anderson stopped by the table of Mr. Schumer, who was there having breakfast as well.
The Federal Aviation Administration had begun a ban, since reversed, on flights to Israel. "Fly to Israel!" Mr. Schumer urged Mr. Anderson.
From across the room, Mr. McConnell jokingly warned his guest to steer clear of Mr. Schumer: "Anderson, stay away from him!" he said.
But Mr. Schumer was undeterred. Shouting now, he gamely pressed his point. "Tell him to fly to Israel!" he bellowed.
Then, everyone continued with breakfast.
The FAA began its ban on flights to Israel on July 22 and rescinded the order about 36 hours later. The contributions from the Andersons to McConnell are dated July 29. The Delta Air Lines PAC donation is dated July 28. The donations went to McConnell's leadership PAC, the Bluegrass Committee, which can be used for political operations not related to his reelection campaign this fall against Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.
The money was hardly the first investment that Delta and its employees have made in McConnell recently. Last September and October, 22 employees of Delta and the airline's PAC gave $26,500 to the McConnell Victory Kentucky Committee, which splits its proceeds between McConnell's reelection account and the Kentucky Republican Party.
Anderson himself has also given $20,000 to the Kentucky Republican Party in the last two years. A spokeswoman for Delta Air Lines declined to comment on Anderson's political giving.
As for breakfast, the senator picked up the tab. "As is customary when senators dine in the Senate Dining Room," Moore said.