(Bloomberg Politics) — When the 114th Congress convenes on Tuesday, lawmakers won’t merely be thinking of the voters who put them in office. They’ll also be mindful of the donors who helped them reach those voters in the first place.
The 2014 midterm elections cost some $3.7 billion, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. That’s a lot of moneyed interests to consider, and sometimes they aren’t pulling lawmakers in the same direction. What’s a senator to do, for example, if the small-government Koch groups see a federal spending plan as too lavish while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce thinks of it as a win for business?
Scott Reed, a top political adviser for the Chamber, had this take on donor expectations: “We don’t expect the candidates we endorsed to line up 100 percent with us, but we’d like to get them in the 80 percent range.”
Here’s a look at what’s on some donor wish lists—and how they intersect and conflict with each other.
Billionaire energy executives Charles and David Koch have a network of advocacy groups that sunk at least $150 million into last year’s elections. They want their senators to be soldiers for less government spending.
“What I want these candidates to do is to support a balanced budget,” David Koch told Barbara Walters in an ABC interview in December. “I’m very worried that if the budget is not balanced that inflation could occur and the economy of our country could suffer terribly.”
Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, the most active nonprofit in the Koch alliance, said his group won’t be shy about calling out lawmakers who take their eye off this spending ball. Phillips predicted chafing between deficit hawks like his group and others that might be willing to sacrifice purity if it means getting their preferred projects funded.
That makes the Chamber, which put up $35 million to usher into office more business-minded Republicans, a potential foe to the Kochs’ top objective. The group spent most of its money on primary contests and notched a win rate of 14 out of 15 candidates, Reed said. The goal was to elect Republicans who are “committed to governing,” he said.
“What we did not want,” he said, “are the candidates who say, ‘Let’s get to D.C. so we can shut the damn place down.’”
The Chamber thinks Republicans should be prepared to fund infrastructure, even featuring that message in some of its candidate advertisements last year. “The key ingredients to thriving free enterprise are roads, bridges and tunnels,” Reed said.
The Chamber can probably count on Karl Rove’s powerful Crossroads political groups as an ally. They’re driven far less by ideology than by party politics. That makes sense: Rove was former President George W. Bush’s top strategist, earning the nickname “Bush’s brain.” The Crossroads enterprise spent $100 million on the 2014 races, according to American Crossroads President Steven Law, and wants more than anything to put the party in a good position for the 2016 presidential election.
“Voters expect constructive action, not obstructionism. They want Washington to work and lawmakers to get things done,” Rove wrote in his post-election column in the Wall Street Journal. “Their expectations are low because their distrust of politicians is high. So surprise them. The rewards will be great if the GOP shows it has a governing agenda.”