House Transpo Chairman got boost from airlines in reelection win

House Transpo Chairman got boost from airlines in reelection win
© Greg Nash

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) was aided in the final weeks of the election by a more-than-$200,000 bump from super-PACs  backed by the transportation industry, according to USA Today’s Public Opinion newspaper.

Shuster, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, easily defeated his opponent Art Halvorson 63 to 37 percent in November. But despite the breezy victory, the candidates were running as if the race were competitive in the final stretch of the campaign.

Shuster’s campaign spent nearly $3.5 million on his re-election bid, making it the veteran lawmaker’s most expensive campaign to date, according to the report.

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Meanwhile, Halvorson’s committee spent a total of just $218,409, according to post-election forms filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Shuster also received a hefty boost from outside money, with super-PACs funneling more than $200,000 in contributions from airlines and transportation groups towards pro-Shuster efforts. Super-PACs can raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, but are not allowed to coordinate directly with a political candidate or party.

"There have been PAC's that supported Congressman Shuster's conservative agenda in the past, and PAC's have also spent money for his opponent, so it goes both ways,” Shuster’s campaign spokesman Casey Contres told Public Opinion.

Stand With America spent $87,128 on ads targeting Halvorson, who narrowly lost in the April primary but earned enough Democratic write-ins to run as a Democrat in the general election. One video painted Halvorson as a “Republican in sheep’s clothing. ”

Around the same time the video went into production, Stand With America received $35,000 in contributions from Airlines for America and $50,000 from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association PAC, according to Public Opinion.

Shuster has repeatedly come under fire for his relationship with a top Airlines for America lobbyist. The trade group has supported Shuster’s contentious plan to separate air traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Various transportation unions gave $93,100 to Progress United just before the super PAC spent a similar amount sending out mailings bashing Halvorson, including one that claimed Halvorson was trying to “trick” Democrats.

And Defending Main Street America received $125,000 from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and $25,000 from a union representing construction workers just prior to spending $39,258 on pro-Shuster mailings.

"This is nothing less than legalized bribery to influence regulatory impact and to direct taxpayer funding toward donor projects," Halvorson said, according to Public Opinion. "This is most egregious in the railroad, airlines and highway industries. Bill Shuster is their man as transportation chairman, and his campaign war chest is rewarded handsomely."