Major business group halts fundraisers over Ex-Im fight

Major business group halts fundraisers over Ex-Im fight

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) is indefinitely postponing a slate of political fundraisers for Republican candidates this fall, saying the influential business group must instead focus its resources on reauthorizing the embattled Export-Import Bank.

NAM's decision underscores frustration within the business community over GOP attacks on the 80-year-old bank, which helps finance private sector projects in overseas markets. The bank’s charter lapsed on June 30 and many conservatives oppose its renewal.

"We are postponing all political activity fundraising," said Ned Monroe, NAM senior vice president of external relations. "We had to prioritize away from political activity and back toward legislative activity."

The group has notified the candidates for the six fundraisers planned for this fall about the change of direction, he said. 

In 2014, NAM's PAC, which does not donate directly to individual candidates, hosted about 21 events. This year, they've hosted about 16 events.

Monroe said that NAM's PAC "is a powerful tool that we use to help support individual members in the House and in the Senate — but we have finite resources to support candidates and incumbents. It's important that we put those resources into helping move our legislative agenda."

Aside from Ex-Im, Monroe said the group is frustrated that lawmakers haven't addressed other issues, such as a long-term transportation funding bill.

NAM's political action committee is hardly a Washington heavyweight, having only spent about $3,000 in the 2014 election cycle, the first cycle since it was created in 2013.

But the trade group’s political fundraisers at its spacious Washington, D.C., offices offer favored candidates a chance to tap into a vast network of roughly 300 top corporations from around the country.

Ex-Im has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support. But the bank has emerged as the top target of the GOP’s conservative wing. Outside groups, like Heritage Action for America and Americans for Prosperity, for instance, have vehemently argued that the bank doles out corporate welfare.

They contend that the bank’s taxpayer-backed international financing only benefits big businesses like Boeing, which receives about two-thirds of total loan commitments.

For its part, Boeing has not pulled any donations from candidates as a result of Ex-Im.

“We are not a single issue PAC. Decisions about giving are made based on a variety of issues and policies as well as the legislative calendar and the election cycle," said Boeing Vice President of Government Operations Communications Gordon Johndroe.

Still, he said that "it would be odd for us to support any particular candidate at that time who is vocally opposed to a policy that is so important to the Boeing employees who give to the PAC.”

A spokesperson for General Electric, another beneficiary of Ex-Im, said that its PAC is "an independent fund that is voluntarily supported and run by GE employees who make decisions regarding contributions on a rolling basis based on a wide range of issues.
Boeing, NAM and The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has led a coalition of industry groups arguing that the bank's financing of big corporations helps smaller firms  that are part of the supply chain.

Monroe said that NAM has continued its lobbying efforts during the August congressional recess, holding town hall meetings throughout the country and meeting with manufacturers.

He said the group remains "optimistic" that lawmakers will extend the bank's charter. Behind the scenes, however, many Ex-Im watchers are skeptical that lawmakers will be able to extend the bank in the fall, when Congress will be faced with a busy agenda.