Mitch McConnell Treats Executive to Breakfast in Capitol; Big Donation Follows

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 10: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (R) speaks to the media while flanked by Se. Roy Blunt (R-M)(L) at the U.S. Capitol, June 10, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Senate GOP leaders spoke to the media about various issues including the Bowe Berghdal prisonor exchange, after attending their weekly policy luncheon.
National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
Aug. 20, 2014, 2:58 p.m.

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.

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