Air Transport, Other Industries, Hope to Cash in on T&I Committee

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The air transportation industry got a big inside connection to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in Congress when the National Air Transportation Association managed to hire Jim Coon, the committee’s Republican staff director since 2007, Politico reported this morning.

Their newest “revolving door” hire may not be the industry’s biggest source of leverage over the committee in the next Congress, however. Air transportation interests made a big jump in 2012 to become the top donor industry to Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), seen as the presumptive successor to term-limited committee chair Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.). The industry was also the biggest source of cash for Mica during all of his years as ranking member and chairman.

While Shuster’s bid for committee chair, which was formally announced in a letter to colleagues last week, could be derailed if Mica seeks and is granted a waiver exempting him from his term limit, it’s clear that powerful transportation interests have decided that Shuster is a valuable investment—and increased their campaign contributions accordingly.

The top industries donating to Shuster’s campaign committee and leadership PAC read like a who’s who of the types of businesses most affected by what comes out of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, including all of his six largest industry supporters:

Nine of the 10 organizations contributing the most to Shuster through their PACs and employees are involved in transportation or construction, from his biggest donor, Atlas Air ($24,500), to concrete and asphalt producer New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co ($17,300) to railroad company Union Pacific ($15,000).

All told, the money Shuster received to his campaign and leadership PAC from transportation sector, oil and gas industry, and construction sector hit a record high of $521,466, a 77 percent increase from 2010. And it’s not like he had a tough race, winning by a 23 percent margin.

With the president’s campaign trail rhetoric of investing in rebuilding America’s infrastructure, the potential payouts to transportation and construction could be huge. It remains to be seen whether Shuster will use his new role to identify the transportation priorities most beneficial to the American people, or whether he will steer money toward airlines and the rest of his big campaign backers.