Moderate Democrats who have stood in the way of Joe Biden’s $3.5tn “Build Back Better” agenda raised record sums of money in the third quarter, with big contributions from the oil and gas, pharmaceutical and financial services industries, filings show.
Joe Manchin, the Democratic senator from West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, the Democratic senator from Arizona, are the two main opponents to Biden’s plan to make massive investments in America’s social safety net.
Both have demanded cuts to bring down the cost of the $3.5tn plan, which would make sweeping investments in childcare, public healthcare and schemes to combat climate change.
The two relatively conservative Democratic senators wield outsized influence in a US Senate that is split, 50-50, between Democrats and Republicans. Any budget bill will need support from both Manchin and Sinema if it is to be signed into law.
The latest Federal Election Commission filings, out this weekend, show the two senators, who are not up for re-election until 2024, raised more money in the three months to the end of September than they had in any other quarter in a nonelection year.
Manchin raked in nearly $1.6m in the third quarter compared to $1.5m in the second quarter of this year and just over $175,000 in the first. Sinema raised over $1.1m in the third quarter, narrowly edging out her haul in the second. In the first quarter of this year, Sinema brought in just over $375,000.
Manchin ended the quarter with $5.4m cash on hand, while Sinema had $4.5m in the bank — relatively large sums of money for politicians who will not need to face voters for another three years.
Manchin represents West Virginia, a Republican-leaning state that favoured Donald Trump over Biden by nearly 40 points in last year’s presidential election. Sinema is from Arizona, a traditional Republican stronghold that has become increasingly Democratic in recent years. Biden won there last year by a razor-thin margin of just over 10,000 votes.
The senators maintain they are representing the interests of their constituents when they seek to dilute the president’s agenda. But progressive critics from within their own party have accused them of being beholden to special interests, including the fossil fuel and pharmaceutical industries, which would stand to lose under Biden’s plans. The White House proposals would give incentives to companies to transition to cleaner energies, and lower the cost of prescription medicines for consumers by allowing the government to negotiate with drug companies on behalf of senior citizens.
The latest filings show that Manchin’s biggest donors in the third quarter include Vicki Hollub, president and chief executive of Occidental Petroleum, the major oil company, Albert Huddleston, the founder and chief executive of Aethon Energy, another big oil and gas firm, and Wil VanLoh, the chief executive of Quantum Energy Partners, a private equity firm focused on the energy industry.
Manchin also received several $5,000 donations from corporate PACs, including Enterprise Products, the Houston-based crude oil pipeline company, and Encompass Health, an Alabama-based healthcare services firm.
Sinema received several large donations from healthcare and pharmaceutical industry bosses in the third quarter, including Bristol-Myers Squibb chair and chief executive Giovanni Caforio, Eli Lilly chief executive David Ricks, and Kabir Nath, chief executive of Otsuka.
The Arizona senator also cashed cheques from several big names on Wall Street, including Goldman Sachs president and chief operating officer John Waldron, and Apollo Global Management co-founder and chief executive Marc Rowan. The cryptocurrency investor twins best known for their lawsuit against Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg — Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss — also both contributed the maximum legal amount to Sinema’s campaign.
Manchin and Sinema are not the only moderate Democratic lawmakers who have thrown their weight around on Capitol Hill in recent weeks. A group of nine House Democrats, led by Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, have also raised concerns about the size of the budget plan, and tried unsuccessfully to force House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to push ahead with a separate vote on a stalled $1.2tn infrastructure package. House progressives have refused to vote for the infrastructure bill without assurances that Manchin and Sinema will not gut the bigger budget bill.
The latest filings show Gottheimer raised nearly $1.1m in the third quarter, compared to $966,000 in the second quarter and $965,000 in the first quarter. He finished the three-month period with more than $11m, a record high for a House member from New Jersey.
Top donors to Gottheimer included Tim Wentworth, president of both Express Scripts Holding Company, the pharmacy benefit manager, and Cigna, the health insurance company, as well as Tony James, executive vice-chair of Blackstone. The congressman also received the maximum legal donations of $5,000 each from the corporate PACs of companies including Comcast, John Deere and New York Life Insurance.