Editor’s note: “The Money to Run” looks at contributions to the election campaigns of local politicians, state and federal. The series was reported by Penn State journalism students using public campaign finance reports archived on the websites of the Federal Election Commission, FollowTheMoney.org and OpenSecrets.org.
In 2015, U.S. Rep Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, raised more than $563,000 in donations in preparation for his re-election campaign this year.
Fundraising has always played an important role in Thompson’s election success. Since first winning office in 2008, the Republican has raised more money than his opponents in each of his campaigns.
In the most recent three elections, not including the 2016 race, Thompson’s campaign raised, and spent, more than $1 million. His campaign raised $1,301,313 for the 2014 election.
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His first campaign was the only one in which he didn’t raise more than $1 million. The campaign raised $432,869 for that election cycle.
The data come from Thompson’s required campaign finance reports, which are public and found on fec.gov, run by the Federal Election Commission.
A lifelong Howard Township resident, Thompson was first elected with 57 percent of the vote. In subsequent elections, he won each with at least 63 percent of the vote.
I’m very appreciative for the overwhelming support that I’ve received. Some of that support comes in the form of campaign contributions. I think that’s a major indicator of how well I’m serving the congressional district.
Rep. Glenn Thompson
“I’m very appreciative for the overwhelming support that I’ve received,” Thompson said in a phone interview. “Some of that support comes in the form of campaign contributions. I think that’s a major indicator of how well I’m serving the congressional district.”
Thompson’s top contributions come from businesses and organizations in sectors he supports, such as natural resources, manufacturing, medical assistance, banking and correctional facilities.
As of Dec. 31, 2015, the Ellwood Group, a steel manufacturing company with headquarters in Ellwood City, had donated $10,800 to Thompson’s campaign for the 2015-16 election cycle. The Ellwood Group, with jobs both in and outside the 5th Congressional District, is Thompson’s top contributor.
“Obviously, manufacturing is so important,” Thompson said. “I try to promote manufacturing jobs, grow more jobs and create more opportunities for Pennsylvania families. I assume that’s why (the Ellwood Group) supports me.”
According to OpenSecrets.org, oil and gas companies together have donated $37,650 to Thompson’s 2016 campaign, making it the top-contributing industry for the congressman. His top donor in that industry is the American Refining Group, with operations in Bradford.
OpenSecrets.org calls itself “the most comprehensive resource for federal campaign contributions, lobbying data and analysis available anywhere” and is run by the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.
The Arch Political Action Committee, which is run by Arch Coal in St. Louis, contributed $2,500, making it his largest donating coal company.
Thompson is one of four co-chairmen of the Congressional Natural Gas Caucus. He advocates for natural gas as affordable energy, which he believes would help stimulate the economy.
The congressman also is a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Education is the fourth-leading sector in contributions to his campaign.
Donors associated with Penn State gave $5,050 to his campaign during 2015 for the 2016 election. All of the money came from individual contributions; the funds didn’t come from Penn State directly.
Although he gets donations from industries whose causes he supports, Thompson said he doesn’t let the contributions sway his vote. On more than one occasion, he said, he has returned checks when a donor has asked him to vote a certain way.
There’s certainly no tie-in to how I vote when I receive a campaign contribution. I maintain a very strict firewall between the campaign side and the policy side.
Rep. Glenn Thompson
“There’s certainly no tie-in to how I vote when I receive a campaign contribution,” he said. “I maintain a very strict firewall between the campaign side and the policy side.”
Democrat Kerith Strano Taylor, who lost to Thompson in 2014, is running against him again this year. She received 36 percent of the vote in 2014 and raised $144,641 in campaign contributions, less than one-ninth the amount that Thompson’s campaign generated.
Strano Taylor, a supporter of campaign finance reform, said campaign contributions are the “lynchpin” in elections.
She said the wealthiest are the ones donating money to support candidates because they have enough money to do so. Because contributors normally donate money to candidates they support, and the candidates with the most money can afford better resources to get elected, those contributors thus have more influence on elections.
Large campaign contributions “are strangling the decision-making processes of our government,” Strano Taylor said. “Everything else can happen if the money goes away.”
Matt Martell is a Penn State journalism student.