More than two dozen House freshmen who came to Washington as reformers have embraced a lucrative perk of the office, sponsoring a combined 263 tariff waivers that benefit contributors to their campaigns and powerful hometown interests, a new report from the Sunlight Foundation shows.
Many of the corporations and their employees have lavished thousands of dollars in campaign contributions on the new members of Congress who sponsored what are called miscellaneous tariff bills (MTBs), which eliminate or substantially reduce the duties paid on goods they import.
Sunlight's findings are consistent with those in a recent series by The Washington Examiner, which showed corporations that benefit the most from MTBs frequently reward legislative sponsors of the measures, congressional leaders, key committee chairmen and partisan political organizations with campaign donations totaling millions of dollars.
The MTBs have been cited by critics - including many members of Congress - as earmarks, which were banned by both chambers when the current congressional term began last year.
The earmark ban specifically prohibits tariff bills benefitting 10 or fewer companies, a provision largely ignored in the bills introduced this year.
To have a tariff waived, a company must convince a member of Congress to sponsor a bill. An MTB can only waive the tariff on a product that is not manufactured in the U.S., and its value cannot exceed $500,000 in a single year.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Senate Republican leaders have introduced a bill to bypass the requirement that a member of Congress sponsor the waiver, and instead allow the International Trade Commission to identify products that qualify.
The Sunlight report shows that 26 freshmen lawmakers proposed a combined 263 MTBs. Among the most notable:
• Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., introduced 21 MTBs and cosponsored four others. The primary beneficiaries are seven corporations, including Nucor, Corning Inc., and Philips Electronics. Those three companies all made contributions to Reed in the last four years. Sunlight found that Reed had received $28,700 from employees of Corning and its political action committee so far this election cycle.
• Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., has introduced 37 MTBs on behalf of six companies. One of those is Invista, a special materials manufacturer and subsidiary of Koch Industries. Mulvaney has received $5,000 in campaign contributions from Koch's PAC.
• Rep. Robert Dold, R-Ill., introduced 19 bills benefitting three companies: Valent, Dow Chemical and Astellas Pharma. In the last four years, he has received $4,000 from Dow's PAC and $5,000 from Astellas.
The full report from the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit watchdog group, can be found here.