Congressman Richard Neal Defends His Record As Top Corporate PAC Money Recipient In Debate With Alex Morse

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Congressman Richard Neal (D-Springfield) is the top corporate political action committee donation recipient in the U.S. House of Representatives in this election cycle, and he doesn’t see a problem with it.

Neal’s relationship with corporate PACs has been a frequent attack theme of Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, a fellow Democrat taking on Neal in Massachusetts’s First Congressional District. Through the end of June 2020, Neal had received $1,970,393 from corporate PACs in this election cycle, the majority of the $3,041,205.92 he had raised.

Neal has taken $10,000 each in campaign donations from political action committees representing corporate deep pockets such as such as the parent company of tobacco giant Phillips Morris USA; defense contractor Boeing; credit/debit card company visa; and alcohol producer Constellation Brands, among others.

Even so, Neal said during a debate on Monday night that he is working for the people of the district — not big corporations.

“I’ve supported every campaign finance reform piece of legislation that has come down the road in my years,” Neal said. “I’m a sponsor of an amendment that would change the constitutional procurement based upon Citizens United. That’s been a disaster for this country. I’ve supported the Disclose Act. How about McCain-Feingold? I’ve supported all of these pieces of legislation but perhaps the better question is if the mayor knows who is sponsoring these ads who support his candidacy. It’s called dark money. I believe that transparency is really important.”

The so-called dark money group Neal mentioned is a liberal political action committee called Fight Corporate Monopolies that plans to spend $300,000 on attack ads against Neal — presumably to help Morse. However, the political action committee has no formal affiliation with Morse’s campaign, does not directly endorse the mayor, and by law is not allowed to consult Morse’s campaign. Morse is not accepting corporate PAC donations to his campaign.

Neal, who has drawn donations from high-profile companies because he is chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, where all taxing and spending bills originate, continued by saying his ability to raise money helps non-white members of Congress, and that he doesn’t base his political views on PAC donations.

“I will not apologize for the idea that I raised $13 million for Democratic candidates and have contributed to every single member of the black caucus, every member of the Hispanic caucus, every member of the equality caucus, and I have recruited candidates with Speaker Pelosi, helped them with message discipline, and helped to fund their campaigns,” Neal said.

“We have a durable congressional majority today in some measure because of the efforts that I’ve made. And it’s still allowed me to point out the following:  ‘If you contribute to my campaign, you buy into my agenda. I’m not buying into yours,’ ” Neal added. “It’s there. It’s reported. And I am not ashamed of the fact that I have built a durable, extended Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, and supported a cross current of candidates throughout America.”

In Morse’s rebuttal, he didn’t seem convinced by Neal’s claim that donors are beholden to him — and not the other way around. 

“The fundamental question is, ‘Do we want a member of Congress who is bought and paid for by corporations, by big pharma, and the fossil fuel industry, by the big health care lobby?” Morse said. “Or do we want a member of Congress who is unbought and to fight for everyday people?”

“When I’m in Washington and I’m taking votes, you should never have to wonder who I’m looking out for,” Morse added.

Morse is primarying Neal from his left. He supports Medicare-for-All, a Green New Deal, and reparations based on race, but did not specifically address how to pay for any of the programs during the debate Monday, August 17, which was hosted by New England Public Media.

Even though Morse has been the subject of controversy for pursuing sexual relations with male college students, including at UMass Amherst where he taught, a recent poll from Beacon Research showed that the race is still highly competitive. Morse trailed Neal 46 percent to 41 percent with 13 percent of voters still undecided.

The primary is September 1.

The winner of the Democratic primary will not face a Republican challenger this November.