The Fake Disunity of Congress at the State of the Union Prom

by Abe Sauer

One week ago today, Congress embraced a demonstration of cross-party goodwill and did the unthinkable — just by sitting together during the President’s State of the Union address. The plan, championed early by Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), turned the event into a “prom,” in that everyone made a bigger deal of it than necessary, a bunch of cool kids called it “lame” (and went anyway) and the headliner for the night just did bad covers.

Participants threw themselves into the one night fantasy with abandon, refusing to face the fact that their date probably just wanted to use them. Congress is, indeed, just another word for sex.

In the end, like any prom, the whole thing was sentimental bullshit, with the real action happening elsewhere. See, when it comes to rhetoric, Democrats like Mark Udall and Republicans like John McCain of Arizona, put on like they have so little in common that sitting together is a some kind of monstrous victory for cooperation.

But both sides have one huge thing in common: Taking thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars from the exact same corporate donors.

McCain sat at the SOTU with Udall’s cousin, Tom (D-NM). On the surface, these two were pitched as stereotypically polar opposites. Yet McCain and Udall share campaign funding from, amongst others, Accenture, AFLAC, America’s Health Insurance Plans, AT&T, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Eli Lilly and Co., General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Goldman Sachs, Honeywell and BNSF Railway. From that last, Udall has taken $18,000 in recent years, while, in the same period, McCain has accepted $15,000 (not counting the thousands the old man took from BNSF during his Presidential run.) In fact, McCain and Udall nearly ran into each other in June of 2009, when Udall took $5,000 on the 19th, just five days before McCain himself accepted BNSF’s $5,000.

Let’s look at some of the others in Congress who made such a big deal about being so different that just sitting together demonstrated some great compromise.

Pennsylvanians Pat Toomey (R) and Bob Casey (D) set their differences aside to sit together and represent the “Virtue, Liberty and Independence” state. The “independence” part of the motto appears open to interpretation, as despite being from such wildly disagreeable sides of the aisle, Toomey and Casey agree on AFLAC, AT&T, Bayer Corp., AETNA, H.J. Heinz and GlaxoSmithKline. They certainly agree on Air Products & Chemicals Inc. which has given the elected pair $15,000 in the last couple years. Though, we wonder if Casey knows that on Oct. 5, 2010, the day after Pfizer cut him a check for $2,000, it turned around and gave Toomey one for $5,000? Awwwwwkward.

Illinois Senators Mark Kirk (R) and Dick (D) sucked it up for the cameras and sat together. Of course, they’ve sucked it up together before. Amongst the names that can be found on accounting sheets of both include Accenture, BNSF, AFLAC, Blue Cross Blue Shield, BP, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Lockheed Martin and the Political Action Committee of the National Mining Association (which, to its friends, is better known by its great Bond Villain name, “COALPAC”). The duo’s cooperative highlights from the last few years include $17,000 from Abbott Laboratories and $23,000 from the Chicago Board Options Exchange. It seems that taking money from the same donors that give to Democrats is something Kirk is capable of doing “liberally.” We wonder if sitting together was as awkward for Kirk and Durbin as that day — Jan 28, 2008 — when they both cashed checks from Honeywell.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) appeared to be going through the motions with his date Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). Maybe Grassley was just sick of running into Wyden at the Accenture store in the mall, from which they have both been shopping since 2001. Or maybe it was just too many encounters at AETNA and AFLAC since 2003. Then again, rubbing elbows while picking up their checks from in 2009 and 2010 could have been enough. Or maybe New York Life Insurance? They could even banter about their mutual fondness for Dov Charney’s American Apparel ads (and its political donations). Maybe the donations both have regularly taken since 2001 isn’t the only thing they have in common when it comes to Pfizer, ifyouknowwhatImean.

While they sat together maybe they weighed the pros and cons of taking money from Goldman Sachs. A decade ago they both did, but only Grassley seems to have the balls to do it in the last few years. In return, Wyden could argue his case for passing on GS and going back to the Mortgage Bankers Association last year, a group both availed themselves to a decade ago. Though, as this was an occasion to focus on cooperation, maybe they would forget the distant past and concentrate more on there here and now, like whether or not they would again get their checks from Abbott Laboratories on the same day (August 26, 2010).

Even Joe “You Lie”

(R-SC) demonstrated some new-found civility by not roofying Susan Davis (D-CA), his state of the union partner. David and Wilson should know each other from their long-term mutual dealings with the American Bankers Association and the American Hospital Association. We would like to see Wilson tell the FEC “you lie” about the “coincidence” of them both taking a check on the same day in July, 2008, from General Dynamics. As they’ve both regularly taken money from the corporation since 2001, it was probably inevitable.

Peter King (R-NY) and Anthony Weiner (D-NY) made a huge deal out of “the two biggest loud mouths who are always fighting” taking seats together. What neither is very outspoken about are their shared patrons, including the American Bankers Association, American Express, American Hospital Association, AT&T, Cablevision, Delta Airlines, Deloitte, Northrup-Grubman, J.P. Morgan Chase, Harrah’s, Met Life and Verizon. And they’re really not being loudmouths about their shared history of fundraising from AIG, spanning all the way from 2000 to 2008.

Just look at all that unity.

The unofficial prom king and queen at the event was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OH). In the run-up to the state of the union, these two just could not shut up about it.

Maybe they were excited to finally get it out in public because as American Express, Altria and the Dairy Farmers of America have known for a long time, these two have tons in common: the 2010 donations to both from Altria; the $15,000 from AMGEN Inc.; the tens of thousands from Ernst & Young.

Together, Schumer and Coburn can be themselves, free from the prejudice of others who would judge them about their lifestyles, such as the $13,000 the two took from Bank of America after voting “yes” to a $45 billion bailout of that bank. Or the Sallie Mae donations. Or the threesomes with General Electric (matching donations fromJune 2, 2009) and AFLAC (matching donations June 16, 2009).

Vice-President Joe Biden and John Boehner (R-OH) did not choose to be seated together; they were forced by tradition to sit behind the President. But that doesn’t mean that giggling about Obama’s growing bald spot was all they had to talk about. They could compare the donations both have received from Nortel Networks and Pfizer. Boehner, who’s taken thousands of dollars from T-Mobile since 2006, could explain to Biden why the corporation was willing to donate thousands to his Presidential bid, but not his senate campaigns.

Biden, in return, could teach Boehner a thing or two. For example, Biden could explain how to deny campaign contributions. While both have taken money from Home Depot, Biden is able to deny his. The trick is, Biden could explain, to take the money before the election, and then only return it after you win (as Biden did with his Home Depot thousands — accepted Nov 18, 2002; returned 13 days after the Nov. 5, 2002 election). It’s a stunt Biden’s pulled numerous times, including with Liberty Mutual ($2,500 on 04/03/2008; returned 12/31/2008) and Lockheed Martin ($5,000 on 08/22/2008; returned on 05/05/2009). Those are all Boehner donors too!

Or the Speaker of the House and the Veep could have a good chuckle about the spending spree Siebel Systems went on in 2006, cutting them both a check for $5,000, reported by both on January 20th. Boehner could needle Biden about how he himself, and not Biden, continued to get donations from Oracle after it bought Siebel, including a maximum Oracle donation just last year. Biden might grin and point out that not soon after that buyout, founder Tom Siebel was gored by a rampaging elephant. “Not that I’m implying anything,” Joe could say with a grin, the reflection of his shiny chompers tanning Boehner a darker shade of orange.

I thank @GOPLeader for his #SOTU offer, but I invited my friend Rep. Bartlett from MD yesterday & am pleased he acceptedTue Jan 25 17:43:16 via web

Nancy Pelosi

As with any prom, sometimes you end up getting turned down by your first choice. So went Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) prom: the Virginian was grumbling about being turned down as Nancy Pelosi’s date. But Eric shouldn’t worry. Maybe he’ll run into her while collecting his check from one of their many shared contributors, including AFLAC, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Accenture, Allianz of America, American Health Care Association, McGuire Woods LLP, Met Life, Zeneca Inc., JP Morgan Chase and Co., KPMG Partners, Liberty Mutual and others.

If Cantor has to choose, he should try McKesson corporation, as both he and Pelosi have been taking significant funds from that organization for the last ten years. And since McKesson has been maxing out its donations to both every year for the last few years, it would be a good place to start.

Cantor probably ended up with plenty to chat about though with his date Bobby Scott (D-VA). Certainly they could chat about the old standby, the weather tens and tens of thousands the two have received from Altria since 2000. But there is also, amongst others, American Express, the American Gaming Association, Genera Electric, Hogan Lovells and Harrah’s Entertainment.

Maybe Cantor even cracked a joke about how dumb Floridians are… the Florida Sugar Cane League has cut them both numerous checks, despite that they represent Virginia.

As with any prom, there are the rebels and those too cool for school. Of the event, Paul Broun (R-GA) said, “I believe firmly that it is a trap and a ruse… They don’t want civility, they want silence from the Republicans. And sitting together being kissy kissy is just another way to silence Republicans… And when people stand up to what the Democrats are doing when Barack Obama spews his venom, then if they’re scattered throughout the Republicans, it won’t be as noticeable if the Republicans sit apart.”

When Broun talked about “standing up to what the Democrats are doing,” maybe he meant standing up to be counted amongst them. Just to compare Broun with the most-hated of Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, is to find all kinds of areas of cooperation. Both took the maximum donation from AFLAC in 2010. Broun and Pelosi have shared a seat at AFLAC’s table for the last four years, working together to take in an impressive $34,500 since 2007. Broun may hate sharing anything with the Democrats, but both he and Pelosi have taken tens of thousands from AT&T in the last few years too. Ditto, Lockheed Martin. And the National Organization of Convenience Stores. Honeywell. Microsoft. Delta Airlines. Both took thousands of dollars from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association on the same day in 2010: September 23.

Broun and Pelosi might have more in common than Broun thinks, having both taken money from the Marijuana Policy Project’s Medical Marijuana PAC.

Maybe Broun’s “spewing venom” is actually a codeword for collecting money. Because Broun and Obama himself have taken money from, amongst others, The American Bankers Association, Lockheed Martin, National Beer Wholesalers Association, UPS and John Deere.

And then, rebel of rebels, the Judd Nelson of the State of the Union Breakfast Club, there is Mitch McConnell (R-KY Jelly), who called the whole thing “a distraction.” He said to Fox News: “More important than the appearance of sitting together is what we do together. And the American people are more interested in actual accomplishments on a bipartisan basis….”

McConnell need only to point to his already glowing record of bipartisan accomplishments.

McConnell, the senate minority leader, has worked tirelessly in the last few years on a bipartisan agenda with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to lift the burden of thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars from groups including, amongst others, Archer Daniels Midland, 3M, Assurant Inc., Bank of America, Accenture,, American Beverage Association, Goldman Sachs, All State Insurance, Met Lie, AFLAC, Owens Corning, National Venture Capitalist Association, Aetna, Altria, American Bankers Association, AT&T, Petroleum Marketers Association, National Sand Stone and Gravel Association, Bechtel, BNSF, BP, Yum Brands, Zeneca, World Alliance for Israel, Pacific Life, Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, Novartis, Whirlpool, Skadden ARPS, Siemens, National Rifle Association of America and Pfizer.

McConnell and Reid could even talk about their mutual love of baseball, specifically taking money from baseball. The two have teamed up to accept $23,500 in recent donations from the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

In the end, just like prom, everyone involved acted the part, pretending not to have all already fondled each other under the bleachers. And just like oblivious parents, the nation looked at the whole ruse and pretty much bought it, when the proper reaction would have been to tell the whole bunch to go congress itself.

Abe Sauer is writing a book about North Dakota. Email him at abesauer [at]