TIME Campaign Finance

Charities Risked Tax-Exempt Status With Political Ads

Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., takes her seat for the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on "The Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress" with Federal Reserve Board Chairwoman Janet Yellen on July 15, 2014.
Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., takes her seat for the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on "The Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress" with Federal Reserve Board Chairwoman Janet Yellen on July 15, 2014. Bill Clark—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

The Internal Revenue Service prohibits charities from getting mixed up in politics, and those that do risk losing their tax exemption. Despite the threat, a handful of groups in the 2014 midterm elections paid for ads that appeared to be campaign-related.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, for example, is known as a 501(c)(3) organization, meaning it pays no income taxes and donations to the group are tax deductible. It is organized the same way as a charity, a hospital or university.

Despite the risk, the NRDC lambasted North Carolina Republican state Sen. Bill Cook in a $700,000 ad campaign this spring. The nonprofit paid for eight different ads that aired more than 2,600 times from mid-April through mid-July, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from media tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.

One ad opens with video of trash being emptied into a landfill, then turns to a shot of Cook.

“State Sen. Bill Cook voted for a bill that would encourage New York, New Jersey and other states to dump their trash in North Carolina,” the voiceover says. “Tell Bill Cook attracting New York trash doesn’t pass the smell test.”

The NRDC, whose mission is to promote environmentally friendly policies, said the ads had nothing to do with the Cook’s re-election campaign. If the ads had been, the organization could face a fine or lose its tax-exempt status as a charity.

Politics ‘absolutely prohibited’

The IRS says 501(c)(3) groups are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

Despite the restrictions, the NRDC and a few other charities chose to navigate the complicated web of IRS rules to air ads that criticized or supported politicians running for election in November.

In addition to the ads targeting Cook, the NRDC partnered with the Southern Environmental Law Center and seven other charities under the name North Carolina Environmental Partnership to air ads criticizing four other state senators and four state representatives. All told, the partnership’s 20 ads — the majority of which were about the lawmakers’ support of fracking — ran more than 5,100 times from late March through mid-July and cost the groups an estimated $1.7 million to air, according to Kantar Media/CMAG.

The ads aired both before and after the state’s primary election, but disappeared months before the general. None of the candidates had primary opponents.

Rob Perks, the campaign manager for NRDC’s North Carolina efforts, offered that as proof that the ads weren’t intended to influence the election.

“We were incredibly careful,” Perks said. “During primary season, we only chose subjects of the ads to be people who ran unopposed in primaries or had no primaries of their own so that we wouldn’t run afoul of any electioneering activity.”

The goal of the ads, representatives for both the NRDC and the Southern Environmental Law Center said, was to help North Carolinians hold legislators accountable.

“We definitely were not intending to ask people to do anything at the polls, and some of the ads were about folks that were unopposed so wouldn’t even show up on a ballot,” said Mary Maclean Asbill, attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Of the lawmakers targeted — all Republicans — two state representatives lost their seats in November, one representative and one senator were unopposed, and the others, including Cook, won re-election despite the ads.

Cook, who faced former state Sen. Stan White, a Democrat Cook unseated in 2012, told the Center in an email that the voters’ actions confirmed his feelings that the ads were “completely false and ineffective.” He did not answer additional questions.

Nonprofit backed Hagan

Also in North Carolina, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, another charitable nonprofit aimed at protecting the environment, spent an estimated $500,000 airing an ad that expressed support for U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat who lost her seat in November.

“Who’s behind the attacks on Kay Hagan? Oil industry billionaires, that’s who,” the ad intones. “They want to undermine the air safety standards that protect us, and Sen. Kay Hagan is working to stop them.”

The ad aired roughly 1,450 times between March 24 and April 13, a few weeks before the primary when Hagan faced two other Democrats, both considered longshots.

Apparently adhering to a federal law that regulates “electioneering” communications, the group filed a report with the Federal Election Commission disclosing the spending because the last week of the ad’s run was less than a month before North Carolina’s primary election, Yet the group still maintains the ad wasn’t political.

“The ad never endorsed her as a candidate,” said the group’s executive director, Stephen Smith. “For all practical purposes, Kay Hagan had no candidate opposing her in that, so it was not at all meant to influence any election.”

Larry Noble, former FEC general counsel, said the ads aired by all the groups fall into a legal gray area but come dangerously close to crossing the line into election politics.

“They’re on a spectrum,” said Noble, who is now an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for tighter campaign finance regulation. “It’s a question in part of whether they’re focused on a person or whether they’re focused on an issue.”

Another ad that appeared to test the limits was produced by the nonprofitChange Agent Consortium. It aired in Michigan touting a September rally about Detroit’s bankruptcy amid Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s ultimately successful re-election bid.

“When Gov. Snyder suspended home rule 18 months ago, he and his co-conspirators promised better jobs, safer neighborhoods and improved city services. Instead crime is up, our school system is under attack and our water’s shut off,” Change Agent Consortium founder the Rev. David Alexander Bullock says in the ad. “Join me Monday, Sept. 29, at 6 p.m. at Hart Plaza and say, ‘No,’ to Gov. Snyder’s takeover of Detroit.”

While the event may have been educational, the language used borders on telling people explicitly to vote against the Republican governor, Noble said after watching the ad.

But Bullock said the ad was not about the November election.

“We did not mention [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Mark Schauer. We did not tell people to vote for Mark Schauer,” he said. “We didn’t even tell people, ‘Don’t vote for Snyder.’”

Political or not?

In examining ads by charitable nonprofits, the IRS looks for references to a candidate — whether by name or not — and positions on “wedge” issues that are expected to turn the tide of a race, said Marcus Owens, an attorney at the Washington firm Caplin & Drysdale who previously oversaw the IRS division that regulates charities.

His firm represents the NRDC, so he declined to comment specifically on any of the ads in this story.

The IRS also considers a variety of contextual details, such as the timing of the message and whether it is consistent with the charity’s overarching mission, he said.

Unlike the FEC, which requires groups to report ads that name candidates within a certain window before an election, the IRS does not rely on specific time frames to determine whether an ad influences an election.

“When someone has been identified as a candidate and that person begins making campaign-style presentations, identifies a position on the issues, that person is a candidate under federal tax law, and so the campaign has begun,” Owens said.

Still, the likelihood that a charity would actually lose its tax-exempt status over a few political ads is pretty slim, said Brett Kappel, an attorney with the Washington firm Arent Fox. Someone could file a complaint with the IRS, but the investigators there are unlikely to jump to action.

“They’re so afraid of their shadow right now — you know, because of congressional oversight — they’ll put it on the pile and say, ‘Yep, we’ll get to that in 2018, 2019, somewhere around there,’” he said.

TIME democrats

The Last Southern Democratic Senator Gave Her Farewell Speech

Democratic Senator Landrieu reacts while delivering a concession speech after the results of the U.S. Senate race in Louisiana during a runoff in New Orleans
Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu reacts while delivering a concession speech after the results of the U.S. Senate race in Louisiana during a runoff in New Orleans on Dec. 6, 2014. Jonathan Bachman—Reuters

The loss of her Senate seat completes a political realignment that began decades ago

Departing Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu promised to spend her retirement from politics working to repair the environmentally degraded Gulf Coast Thursday in an emotional farewell speech delivered from the Senate floor.

“It is something worth fighting for,” she said. “We would not be a country without the Mississippi Delta.”

In a runoff election December 6, Landrieu lost decisively to Republican Bill Cassidy, making the last statewide elected Democrat in the Deep South. The loss of Landrieu’s seat completes a political realignment in the once solidly Democratic South that began decades ago.

Landrieu, who is from New Orleans, said she will focus her work out of office on issues impacting children and the environment, including coastal restoration, a hot button issue in Louisiana, where wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate.

“The city is going to stay there and the region is going to stay there,” she said.

Landrieu thanked a litany of staffers and lawmakers but had less charitable parting words for one elected official.

“President Bush was not that forward-leaning,” she said of Bush’s response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans. “I’ll just leave it at that. There will be a lot more in my book.

During her 18 years in the Senate, Landrieu was a dependable ally of the oil and gas industry and an unabashed pork-barrel dealmaker who touted her success at diverting federal funds to her state—she famously traded her key vote in favor of Obamacare in exchange for millions of dollars in extra federal support for Medicaid in Louisiana.

Landrieu told Politico it is “highly, highly unlikely” she will run for office again.

TIME 2014 Election

Landrieu’s Loss a Harsh Milestone for Southern Democrats

Democratic Senator Landrieu reacts while delivering a concession speech after the results of the U.S. Senate race in Louisiana during a runoff in New Orleans
Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu delivers a concession speech after the results of the U.S. Senate race in New Orleans on Dec. 6, 2014. Jonathan Bachman—Reuters

Democrats no longer hold a Senate seat, governor's mansion or legislative chamber from the Carolinas to Texas

Democrats are dead in the land of Dixie.

With the fall of three-term Sen. Mary Landrieu Saturday, Louisiana will not have a Democratic statewide elected official for the first time since 1876. And the Republican Party will control, as the Associated Press noted, every Senate seat, governor’s mansion and legislative chamber from the Carolinas to Texas.

Congress’ last white Democrat in the Deep South didn’t lose because of a superior opponent, but because of her association with a deeply unpopular President and a health-care law that destroyed the chances to extend other Democratic dynasties this cycle, including Georgia’s Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn.

Landrieu—the daughter of a former New Orleans mayor and the sister to the current one—lost more so than Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy won. Even Cassidy, who cruised to a win Saturday, acknowledges that to some extent. When asked to define the campaign’s turning point, he pointed to Landrieu’s support of the Affordable Care Act, which passed four years ago.

“I think it’s a referendum on Senator Landrieu’s support for a legacy, which the majority of people in Louisiana disapprove of,” he told TIME of his victory. “Sen. Landrieu has ceased to represent the views of the majority of the people of Louisiana but assumed that the advantages of incumbency would be adequate to ensure her reelection. But the people of Louisiana wanted a senator who represented them not Barack Obama.”

The fact that Landrieu couldn’t beat Cassidy—who Pearson Cross, an associate professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, called “not a natural,” “not charismatic,” “off-putting” and “awkward” in a six-minute telephone interview—leads Louisiana election experts to believe that a Democrat won’t win statewide office for years. For Cross, ten to fifteen.

“Early on I said that Cassidy couldn’t win unless he started to run a campaign that was more than people’s negative attitudes about Mary Landrieu,” he says. “But in fact, I was wrong. He has essentially won this campaign without bringing much to the table beyond people’s visceral dislike for Obama and Obamacare.”

In her final days, Landrieu acknowledged her disappointment that the national Democratic organization designated to defend her—the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee—abandoned her after the November 4 election turned to a runoff. Pro-Cassidy outside groups outspent her by a huge amount— a “roughly a 180-to-1 margin” on television, according to a November Associated Press article. Landrieu may be hard pressed not to partly blame the DSCC for her shellacking.

But she also could have run a better campaign. A few weeks ago she tried to display her clout as head of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources by pushing through a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which failed by one vote. Even if it had gone through it wouldn’t have helped her much, says Joshua Stockley, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

“I think that was a bad decision,” he said. “Here in Louisiana the average voter isn’t running around thinking ‘Man, I really wish we had a pipeline right now. Man, I really think oil and gas were cheaper.’ We’re already dealing with the lowest price per bill we’ve seen in decades. … Our day to day conversations aren’t dictated by the Keystone pipeline.”

Stockley says that she could have better emphasized issues like raising the minimum wage, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Violence Against Women Act and her efforts to keep some major military bases afloat and to reduce college debt. It’s clear, however, that despite Landrieu’s campaigning on these and other issues, one broad statistic—“Mary Landrieu voted with Obama 97% of the time”—was the major theme in the race.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to Cross—who called Obamacare Cassidy’s “Exhibit A” binding Landrieu to the President—or anyone else for that matter, that Cassidy’s answer to the old question “What is the first bill you’d like to introduce?” focuses on repealing and replacing the health care law. Of course, doing that proves to be an incredible hurdle.

“Will that be the first bill that we’re going to be able to get out?” asked Cassidy. “I don’t know that—probably not. But if you want to talk to the American people … they would love to see that bill, wouldn’t they?”

TIME LGBT

Meet the Republican Who Lost His Election Fighting for LGBT Rights

Michigan Rep. Frank Foster (R) speaks on the floor in the Michigan House of Representatives in Lansing. Michigan House of Representatives Photographer Mike Quillinan

A young star in Michigan is spending his final days as a lawmaker working to expand the state's civil rights protections

In Michigan, a 28-year-old Republican state lawmaker is using his lame-duck session to fight for a bill that cost him his reelection in a primary this summer. Rep. Frank Foster is trying to extend the state’s civil rights act—which protects people from discrimination on the basis of age, race, religion, sex and weight—to also include sexual orientation. Even though he puts his bill at a 10% chance of passing, he says he has no regrets. “This is important, and if it’s not law in 2014, we’re still having the conversation,” Foster tells TIME. “Until it’s equal, it’s not equal.”

On Dec. 3, the commerce committee, of which Foster is the chair, was the site of a heated debate about tolerance and persecution. The public was invited to give testimony on Foster’s bill and another bill to amend the civil rights act to include both sexual orientation and gender identity. Supporters of the bills made arguments that passing them wasn’t just about protecting another class of citizens but about Michigan’s reputation and making the state feel welcoming to the broadest possible array of workers and companies.

One of those testifying in support was Allan Gilmour, a former second-in-command at Ford who made headlines when he came out as gay after his first retirement from the company in 1995. Updating the law, he said, “is necessary if Michigan is to attract and retain talent. And on an individual basis, no one should live in fear that they will lose their job or injure their careers should they live openly.”

Those opposing the bills, largely representatives from Christian groups, argued that the measures threaten to jeopardize religious freedoms, like those of Christian small-business owners who would prefer not to bake a cake or take photographs for a same-sex wedding—and might lose their business license for such a refusal under an amended civil rights law. “Why should that baker or photographer be forced against their religious beliefs and conscience to participate in that? And if they refuse to because of their religious conscience, to be put out of business?” said David Kallman, speaking on behalf of Michigan Family Forum, a conservative Christian organization. Multiple speakers also argued that there was no hard data showing that LGBT discrimination was a problem that needing solving. (There are reports on the issue and more research is being done on the topic.)

After giving his own testimony, Foster oversaw the meeting stoically, with one exception. Stacy Swimp, President of the National Christian Leadership Council, gave a speech about how he was “rather offended” that anyone would equate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans to black Americans when it came to fights for civil rights. “They have never had to drink out of a LGBT water fountain,” he said, recounting that black Americans had been lynched and denied many basic rights in the past. He called any comparison “intellectually empty, dishonest” and accused the LGBT community of exploiting the struggles of black Americans.

Once he finished, Foster pulled his own microphone toward him. “Sir, I will agree with you on the fact that African Americans in this country’s short history have been discriminated against,” he said. “But if you don’t think the LGBT community has been discriminated against, been drug behind cars, been hung up by their necks til they’re dead, been denied housing, been denied commerce opportunities, then you’re just not looking very far.”

It was an impassioned speech from a native Michigander who never met a homosexual person until going to college at Grand Valley State University. Foster grew up in the tiny town of Pellston (pop. 831) in the midst of his current district, which spans the water where the state’s upper and lower peninsulas nearly meet. It’s an area known for fishing and hunting and tourism on islands like Mackinac, whose residents are also among his constituents. It’s also socially conservative.

By the time he finished his degree at Grand Valley State, Foster had been elected student body president, twice. He had organized rallies and marches against an amendment to ban affirmative action (which eventually passed by a nearly 20-point margin in 2006). He had accompanied administrators to Washington, D.C., to argue for better higher education funding. And he had worked to get gender identity added to non-discrimination policies in the student and faculty handbooks. “That was really the first time I socialized with people of different ethnic backgrounds and different races,” he says. “College was the way it was supposed to be for me.” He won his first race for a seat in the state House of Representatives in 2010, with 63% of the vote, and became one of only two freshmen to be appointed committee chairs.

After Foster was reelected in 2012, a Democratic colleague approached him about helping to support a non-discrimination bill. Like many people—one poll put the number at 87%—Foster assumed it was already illegal to fire someone for their sexual orientation, though there is no federal protection and only 21 states have passed such a law (18 of those, and D.C.’s, also include gender identity). Eventually, Foster and his colleague decided it would be more powerful if the Republican didn’t just co-sponsor the bill but introduced it. “I had no idea we did not have those folks included in Michigan’s civil rights act. When I found that out, it became a passion of mine,” he says, adding that he thought “as a young Republican, I could communicate to my colleagues and the party where we needed to go.”

Before Foster got around to actually introducing a bill, word got out that he planned to and he did interviews that confirmed people’s suspicions. In late 2013, Foster also called for the resignation of his Republican colleague Dave Agema, who caused an uproar after posting an article on Facebook that decried the “filthy” homosexual lifestyle. Agema was among those who encouraged a teacher at a Christian academy—who was considering running for Foster’s seat when he hit his term limit in 2016—to run against Foster in 2014 instead. Foster says his opponent, Lee Chatfield, gave him a deadline to publicly come out against legislation that would amend the civil rights act. “I wasn’t able to make that deadline, didn’t want to make that deadline,” says Foster. “So he filed in January and made this the center point of the campaign.” Foster lost by less than 1,000 votes in the primary against Chatfield, who had support from the Tea Party.

That loss not only cost Foster his job, but hurt his chances of getting the bill passed. The prospects had been looking good. He and other supporters of the bill had been rallying support among his fellow Republicans and gained the backing of the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition, a group with big-name members like Chrysler, Delta Airlines, Google and Kellogg that formed to support the legislation. “After my election, they slowly faded away,” Foster says of his GOP colleagues. “It was a pretty successful, religious-mounted campaign that beat me, and if that can happen in my community, that can happen anywhere.”

Foster says he’d like to see a bill pass that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity but had limited his to the former thinking that it would have a better chance of passing. When Michigan’s civil rights act was proposed in the 1970s—named Elliott-Larsen for the lawmakers who championed it—the inclusion of sexual orientation threatened to kill the bill, so it was removed. “Forty years later, here we are still trying to add sexual orientation, and it’s the transgender piece that was slowing the bill down,” Foster says. He also knows that by compromising, he may lose the support of Democrats. “Democrats are not going to vote for anything less than fully inclusive, and Republicans will not vote for fully inclusive,” he says. “So, in my mind, we’re sort of stuck.”

After winning his reelection, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, sat down with the Detroit Free Press and its editorial board reported that “he will encourage the Legislature to take up an expansion of the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to also include the LGBT community, prohibiting discrimination in hiring and housing decisions.” Foster is somewhat hanging his hopes on that report. “He can add some muscle to the argument and help me get this thing across the line,” Foster says. For now, both bills remain in the commerce committee. After potentially being voted out, a bill still has to win a floor vote in the House before repeating the process in the Senate.

Regardless of what happens, Foster is going home at the end of the session. He’ll work full time at Rehabitat Systems, a company which provides long-term care to people with traumatic brain and spinal-cord injuries, where he’s currently an executive officer. Right now, he’s frustrated with where the two-party system has gotten him. “I don’t want to necessarily be in the box anymore, where if I’m Republican it means I’m x, y and z,” he says. “The rest of my demographic, the 20-somethings, don’t think that way.”

But he says he’d like to have another go at being a Republican politician down the line, especially because their fiscal policies resonate so strongly with him. “There needs to be some more time,” Foster says. “My party has to change some of its social stances. And if that can happen, I think I’ll become more appealing to the party and vice versa.”

TIME 2014 Election

Now It’s Democrats’ Turn for a Post-Election Autopsy

Elaine Chao Mitch McConnell Kentucky
US Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican from Kentucky, waves to supporters with his wife Elaine Chao during his victory celebration at the Marriott East Hotel in Louisville, Ky. on Nov. 4, 2014. Mark Lyons—EPA

Similar effort to Republicans' post-election autopsy in 2013

A month after its midterm election drubbing, the Democratic National Committee has selected a panel of party leaders, allies, and operatives to examine where it went wrong in 2014.

DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced the formation of the “Democratic Victory Task Force” Thursday to conduct a review of Democratic Party and allied organizations operations in the 2014 cycle, when Democrats lost control of the Senate and saw defeats in House, gubernatorial and state legislative races across the country.

The committee is made up of Democratic fundraiser Naomi Aberly, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, DNC Vice-Chair Donna Brazile, political operative Maria Cardona, party lawyer Marc Elias, former Obama digital guru Teddy Goff, marketing and event planning veteran Maneesh Goyal, Colorado Democratic Party Chair Rick Palacio, AFSCME President Lee Saunders and Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

Democrats maintain a structural advantage in presidential cycles, when a larger and more diverse electorate goes to the polls, but they have suffered in two consecutive midterm years from lower, less diverse turnout, as well as frustration with President Barack Obama. The committee will review areas where the party needs to improve both its midterm election operations, as well as areas where it must act to gear up for the 2016 presidential campaign.

“We are proud to announce the members of the Democratic Victory Task Force, and are eager to work with them to build on what we’ve done that works, identify and prioritize challenges and ultimately improve our party’s performance in future elections,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “This diverse group of Democratic Party officials, strategists and advocates will each bring with them expertise from their fields to collaborate on a holistic review of the Party’s past performance and present actionable areas for improvement moving forward.”

The panel follows a similar effort by the Republican National Committee after its 2012 defeat. The “Growth and Opportunity Project” recommended operational and policy changes to the Republican Party when it released its report in early 2013.

Wasserman Schultz said the group will report its initial findings at the DNC’s winter meeting in February 2015 and make final recommendations by mid-2015.

TIME 2014 Election

Louisiana Senate Runoff Leads to Last-Minute Donations

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) speaks during a press conference to urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, on Capitol Hill on April 1, 2014 in Washington, DC.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) speaks during a press conference to urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, on Capitol Hill on April 1, 2014 in Washington, DC. Allison Shelley—Getty Images

Oil and gas industry among the big donors

The defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline bill in the Senate last month may have been viewed as a blow to Sen. Mary Landrieu‘s re-election bid, but her battle to get the bill passed was warmly received by members of the oil and gas industry, including Keystone’s parent company.

And not only have corporate PACs, top executives and lobbyists in the industry stepped up with large checks for the embattled Landrieu’s campaign in recent days, but so have many of her fellow Democrats, including a number of liberal New England senators who voted against the legislation.

It will be weeks before there’s a final tally of all the contributions to Landrieu and Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, who face each other in a runoff this Saturday (Dec. 6). But each campaign has filed several lengthy reports listing hundreds of donors in recent days. From Oct. 16 to Nov. 16, according to filings made today, Cassidy raised $2.1 million to Landrieu’s $1.5 million. Landrieu raised money quickly in the wake of the Nov. 18 Keystone vote, bringing in at least $807,900 since the day before the vote, but Cassidy gained and has raised at least $983,000 in the same time frame.

Landrieu’s last-minute drive for support has relied mainly on wealthy individuals from Louisiana — along with a smattering of New York high-society donors — and strong backing from oil companies and liberal Democratic politicians. Cassidy, on the other hand, picked up large checks only from a handful of ideologically driven PACs and reliable out-of-state partisan individuals until the last few days, when he disclosed receiving a flood of money from GOP establishment figures, like soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), and some prominent brand name corporate PACs, like Aetna,American Airlines and Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

While full data on fundraising and spending by each campaign is only available through Nov. 16, FEC rules require that during the period within 20 days of an election, candidates report any donations of $1,000 or more within 48 hours of receiving them.

Landrieu’s Backers

The Nov. 18 Senate vote on a bill to approve the controversial Keystone project featured Landrieu front and center. Despite opposition elsewhere, the pipeline is popular in Louisiana, where oil and gas is a major industry and employer. The bill failed, and many pundits portrayed it as a defeat for Landrieu in her bid for re-election. But several big names in the oil and gas world seemed grateful.

According to filings made late last month, on the day before the vote, BP‘s corporate PAC gave Landrieu’s campaign $5,000. On Nov. 18, Martin Durbin, president of trade group America’s Natural Gas Alliance, personally gave her campaign $1,000, and the group’s PAC followed up with $5,000 more. Two days after the vote failed, the American Petroleum Institute‘s PAC contributed $5,000, as did ConocoPhilips‘ corporate PAC. The corporate PAC of Chevron, a company known for its conservative political leanings, and the PAC of natural gas giant Sempra also contributed following the vote, as did the Interstate Natural Gas Association. TransCanada, the parent company of the KeystoneXL project,reported giving Landrieu $2,500 on Nov. 24.

Landrieu has also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from other corporate PACs that represent major interests in Washington, particularly in natural resources and energy: American Electric Power, Exelon, Freeport-McMoran and Edison Electric.

Many of these companies tend to shy away from giving to Democratic candidates, and an endangered one in a race that conventional wisdom says may already be lost wouldn’t seem to be a great bet. The American Petroleum Institute’s PAC has given 85 percent of its money to Republicans this cycle; Chevron’s PAC has given 84 percent of its contributions to GOP candidates; and Freeport McMoran’s PAC has given 68 percent of its money to Republicans.

Adding to the unusual nature of Landrieu’s fundraising is the fact that at the same time oil and gas companies were shoveling money into her campaign, many of her Democratic Senate colleagues were voting down the very bill those companies supported — and then apparently leaving the floor to write large checks to support her.

In the days after the Keystone vote, Landrieu collected checks from the leadership PACs of Sens. Patrick Leahy (Vt.),Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Maria Cantwell(Wash.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and others — all Democrats who voted against the pipeline.

Most of Landrieu’s individual donations come from Louisiana addresses, with the notable exception of several dozen large checks from people in a very small geographic area of Manhattan — specifically the tony Upper East Side. Those society-name donors include William Lauder and heiresses Kate Whitney and Agnes Gund (who listed her occupation as “philanthropist”); their gifts may be linked to a fundraiser hosted by Hillary Clinton for Landrieu in New York shortly before Thanksgiving.

Cassidy’s Strong Finish

While Landrieu was raking in big checks from oil and gas companies as the Keystone bill went down in flames, Cassidy’s fundraising seemed stagnant. In a filing submitted on Nov. 19, covering the days just around the vote, Cassidy reported raising just $67,500 from large donors — compared to Landrieu’s filing on Nov. 20 listing $179,400. At that time, most of Cassidy’s donors were individuals and from out-of-state. In fact, his Nov. 19 filing is dominated by members of the DeVos clan — the conservative Michigan family led by Richard Devos, the founder of Amway. Richard Devos, his son Dick Devos and seven other members of the family each gave Cassidy checks for the maximum $2,600 for the runoff.

In contrast to Landrieu’s flood of support from her Senate colleagues, the only congressional leadership PAC giving to Cassidy then was the one sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). The next filing, on Nov. 21, was similarly lackluster, showing just $99,400 in large donations.

But Cassidy’s efforts got a sudden boost that showed up in his Nov. 24 report listing $254,900 in large contributions. The impetus may have been a donation from McConnell’s leadership PAC. Whatever led to the sudden outpouring of mainstream support for Cassidy, it was a turnabout.

In that filing, Cassidy reported donations from major corporate PACs like Aetna, Altria, American Airlines, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Devon Energy and Caterpillar. He also picked up donations from the corporate PAC of Oxbow Carbon — the company led by the “other” Koch brother, Bill Koch, who also donated personally. Additionally, Cassidy logged checks from GOP Sens. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.)

The flood of donations increased with two even larger filings made on Dec. 1, covering the days around Thanksgiving. Donors listed in those documents include more big corporate PACs, such as those of America’s Health Insurance Plans andHumana, as well as much more leadership PAC cash from the likes of Sens. Richard Shelby (Ala.) and Chuck Grassley(Iowa).

Saturday’s vote will finally decide how large the Republicans’ majority will be as they take control of the Senate in January — 53 votes or 54.

TIME Congress

Senate Blocks Keystone Legislation

Landrieu Handed Loss by Fellow Democrats

Senate Democrats blocked a bill to authorize the 1,179-mile TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline Tuesday evening, delaying a confrontation between the White House and Republicans over the project and potentially damaging Democratic Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu’s hopes for re-election in a tight runoff vote next month.

All 45 Republican Senators and 14 Democrats voted for the bill, falling one short of the 60 votes needed to override a Democratic filibuster of the measure.

The vote capped a day of political stunts and speeches on the floor of the Senate. Hours earlier, Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, California Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer, stood in front of a huge poster marked “Misery Follows Tar Sands” and another with people wearing protective face masks. “It’s called Keystone XL,” Boxer said, “Not extra large, but extra lethal… Why do we want to bring barrels of filthy, dangerous, dirty pollution into America?”

On the other side of the Capitol, House Speaker John Boehner said in a press conference Tuesday morning that vetoing a bill for the popular pipeline would be the “equivalent of calling the American people ‘stupid.’”

Landrieu worked hard to find the 15 Democrats needed for passage, garnering support from Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Delaware Sen. Tom Carper. “We’ve been at this for six years,” said Carper who believes the pipeline has “impeded” efforts to pass clean energy bills. “We need to vote on it and move on.”

Even some environmentalists agree with Carper’s assessment that the Keystone push has taken the spotlight from other issues. Michael Shellenberger, the President of the progressive Breakthrough Institute, says that the Keystone debate is symbolic of a broader problem for the environmental movement in which partisans with narrow interests fail to support potentially bipartisan energy plans with coal alternatives like nuclear and natural gas. “I think the greatest irony of it—and that no one really talks about—is that right in the middle of the thing we’re having a huge fracking boom,” he says.

“[Environmentalists] hitched their carts to the Democrats and it doesn’t really give any incentive to Republicans to care or do much of anything on the environment,” adds Shellenberger. “This is the most politically weakened environmental movement there’s probably ever been since the movement was created in 1970.”

As for Landrieu, her chances to defeat Rep. Bill Cassidy in their Dec. 6 runoff–never very good–just got smaller. Even the publicity she got pushing the bill won’t do her much good, according to Louisiana political experts. “I don’t think the pipeline bill push will do much to change the dynamics of this election,” Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette said before the vote. “It is probably too little too late.”

After the bill’s defeat was announced on the floor, a singing man dressed in Native American garb and a handful of student protesters were escorted from the viewing section of the Senate chamber and handcuffed.

TIME 2014 Election

The Politics Behind Mary Landrieu’s Pipeline Power Play

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) holds a news conference with fellow committee member Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) on the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington on Nov. 12, 2014.
Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, holds a news conference with fellow committee member Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, on the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington on Nov. 12, 2014 Gary Cameron—Reuters

The Louisiana Democrat's move may be too little too late

Democrat Mary Landrieu’s attempt to force President Barack Obama to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline is the latest in a political thrust-and-parry exchange between the three-term Senator and GOP Representative Bill Cassidy, her opponent in next month’s Senate runoff election in Louisiana. But Landrieu’s gambit may be too little too late, election watchers say.

The frantic maneuvering started Wednesday morning when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell promised Cassidy a spot on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee if Cassidy beats Landrieu in the December runoff. Landrieu chairs the committee and has touted her tenure there as a symbol of her influence on Capitol Hill.

In response, Landrieu took to the floor of the Senate and gave a nearly three-hour speech calling for the body to take a vote on her bill, which would require Obama to clear the final bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles preventing construction of the pipeline.

The next move came from across the Capitol building, when House Speaker John Boehner and majority leader Kevin McCarthy fast-tracked Cassidy’s three-page bill to authorize the pipeline straight to the floor of the House, bypassing the committees that normally would have weighed the proposal. Cassidy’s bill (which matches the Senate language) will get a House vote on Friday.

When the Senate votes as early as Tuesday on Landrieu’s bill, it will be the first time in six years that both chambers of Congress will vote on the pipeline, according to the Washington Post.

“It’s been a dizzying 24 hours for a supposed lame-duck legislature as it relates to Louisiana,” says Joshua Stockley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

Landrieu’s gambit may help her re-election chances, but it comes at a cost. Forcing a Keystone vote in Congress will give McConnell and Boehner an unexpected win on the list of issues they want to tackle when the GOP takes control of both chambers of Congress early next year. White House press secretary Josh Earnest signaled Wednesday that the President would oppose the legislation, as he has in the past.

“We have indicated that the President’s senior advisors at the White House would recommend that he veto legislation like that,” said Earnest. “And that does continue to be our position.”

And it’s not even clear how much Landrieu’s push will help her chances. “Landrieu’s task is continuing to separate and distance herself from the President,” says Stockley. “Does Keystone help make that argument? Yes, but I would argue that’s been somewhat neutralized. Cassidy is going to be able to come back and say, ‘My language, my bill, I voted on it too.'”

“She’s going to have to do something more significant than the Keystone pipeline to beat Representative Cassidy,” he adds.

In last week’s race, Landrieu nabbed the top spot with 42% of the vote, compared with 41% for Cassidy and 14% for Tea Party candidate Rob Maness. She is facing an avalanche of ads and outside spending she can’t match (she lost the financial support of the group designed to get her elected, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) and an opponent bolstered by Maness’s conservatives. As TIME’s Denver Nicks notes, Landrieu’s team believes she’s got a shot if she wins 30% of white voters, up from just 18% she received in the general elections last week. Of course, Landrieu has won runoffs before, in 1996 and 2002, and has expressed hope for pulling out another victory.

“Are you a lost cause?” NBC’s Kasie Hunt asked Landrieu on Wednesday. “I don’t believe I am,” she replied.

TIME Newsmaker Interview

Mary Landrieu Talks to TIME About the Fight of Her Political Life

Sen. Landrieu Gathers With Supporters On Election Night In New Orleans
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) gathers with supporters during midterm elections at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans on Nov. 4, 2014. Stacy Revere—Getty Images

The senior Senator from Louisiana talks hardball politics and Keystone XL at a campaign stop in New Orleans

Mary Landrieu did not look like a politician on the brink of extinction as she arrived at the National World War II Museum’s crowded Veterans Day get-together in her hometown of New Orleans on Tuesday. With the hulks of retired warplanes suspended overhead, the senior Senator from Louisiana made her way toward the stage through a sea of smiles, handshakes and hugs from old friends. She stopped for a chat with the New Orleans Maritime Marine Academy Band before taking a seat on stage next to the mayor, who is also her little brother.

But as the Senate Democrats’ final flag-bearer in the Deep South, Landrieu is every bit the last of an endangered political species. In a three-way contest on Election Day earlier this month, she finished first with 42% compared to 40% for Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy and 14% for Tea Party favorite Rob Maness. Landrieu and Cassidy now go head-to-head in a runoff Dec. 6, and many of Maness’ supporters are expected to back her Republican opponent.

Landrieu has been all but abandoned by the national Democratic Party ahead of the runoff. Cassidy and his supporters have paid for 96% of the ads aired since the runoff began, while the national Democratic campaigns have pulled virtually all of their money out of the race.

But Landrieu is putting a brave face on it. Democrats throughout the South took an Election Day beating in part because voters saw the midterms as a referendum on President Obama, Landrieu says. With the GOP soon to be in control of the Senate, the Republican majority is no longer at stake and Landrieu hopes that fact will give her space to focus the race back on Louisiana. “We have the race that we want!” she declared after results came in election night.

The magic number for Landrieu to win that race is “30”, say campaign aides. Black voters, a solidly Democratic constituency, must comprise 30% of the electorate and she’s got to win 30% of white votes, the aides say. She has a ways to go to make those numbers. On November 4, she took just 18% of white votes—if she hopes to keep her job she’ll have to win over the rest.

To get there, Landrieu is playing up her more than 18 years as a moderate deal-maker in the Senate and her lengthy record of bringing home the proverbial bacon. Among the projects she has managed to bring to Louisiana, Landrieu reminded the crowd on Veterans Day, was the National World War II Museum in which they were all gathered.

After speeches from Landrieu, her brother Mitch the mayor, Republican Sen. David Vitter and Marine Corps Colonel Bradley Weisz (who was the only speaker all day to mention President Obama), Landrieu sat down with TIME to discuss her uphill political battle.

TIME: You mentioned after the election that this is the campaign you’ve always wanted. Why? The numbers are daunting—

Sen. Mary Landrieu: Hold on. The campaign I wanted is a campaign against Bill Cassidy. Not against the entire anger at the national government. And the first race was so much anger about gridlock in Washington, now that that race is over the Republicans have taken control of the Senate. Mitch McConnell is now going to be the Majority Leader. Barack Obama has been in some ways repudiated by the voters nationally. Not personally, but some of his policies. I think now voters here can focus on what’s best for Louisiana. So this is the race that I’ve wanted to run, between Mary Landrieu and Bill Cassidy. Running on my record against his record. And if we can get voters to focus on that I’m confident of a victory.

In recent days you’ve been highlighting things like the gender gap, the minimum wage, issues that particularly affect women.

OK, yes but what you need to be corrected on is that I’ve been highlighting those issues since the first day of the campaign. You would write it wrong. This is not a recent switch. I’ve been talking about minimum wage, pay equity, Lilly Ledbetter, since the first day of this campaign because economic issues are really at the heart of what Louisiana voters want to focus on. Oil and gas jobs, worker training, the skills gap, fair wages and benefits. I’ve talked about that since the first day of the campaign.

Now, a lot of that’s been drowned out by my opponent who won’t discuss that in any way, shape or form. All he wants to talk about is the President. And, as I’ve said, I’ve now worked with three presidents, six governors and four majority leaders. The race that I want to run is a race about: Has Mary Landrieu delivered for Louisiana? And what has she done? And what kind of teams has she built? What kind of record does she have versus Bill Cassidy. If I can get that race, we will win. I will win.

With Republicans in control of the Senate is Keystone XL going to go through?

That’s a good question. We’re actually very close to getting Keystone passed right now. I’ve been working very hard on a stand alone vote on Keystone. You might think that it’ll be easier in January but you would be jumping to a conclusion that’s not yet proven, because in order to get Keystone passed, remember, it has to be passed by the House and the same bill by the Senate and then signed into law by the President. So, if you think about getting a clean bill, like my bill, like the one I have with Hoeven, it’s a Hoeven-Landrieu bill, it has 45 Republican co-sponsors plus a few Democrats. A clean stand-alone Keystone bill could potentially pass right now.

So when you ask me is it going to be easier, I can’t say yes because in January the Republicans may put a bill together with Keystone and let’s say five other things. See that? And then it passes the House and then it fails in the Senate, or it passes the House, the Senate and the President vetoes it. So my answer is: it is possible right now, right now, I think, to get a clean Keystone bill passed that the President to the United States could actually sign.

You were chatting with the kids in the Marine band over there. What were you talking about?

Well, I’m a huge supporter of the creation of this school. I’ve led the fight here in Louisiana on charter schools. I’m an elected leader on public charter schools. I’ve helped to create more charter schools per capita than anywhere else in the nation. So I visit them frequently and I was just saying that I’ll be there to see them again. Their school is growing. As I said in my speech, we have two charter military schools, first in the nation, and we’re really proud of that. The Pentagon and the military are really interested in using that model all over the country for other schools.

TIME 2014 Election

Despite Midterm ‘Wave,’ Americans Not Particularly Thrilled About GOP Control

US-POLITICS-OBAMA-CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP
Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, center, looks on as U.S. President Barack Obama, left, speaks during a bipartisan, bicameral congressional leadership luncheon at the White House in Washington, D.C., Nov. 7, 2014 Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

Americans are skeptical of what's to come in remaining years of Obama presidency

Looks like the “meh” election has yielded the expected reaction from the American public. Less than half of Americans are happy to see Republicans take control of Congress, according to a new Pew Research Center survey, and about the same proportion think the Republican “wave” will lead to legislative success.

Republicans have been promising Washington will “function” with the GOP in control of Congress, but Americans in general foresee more of the same over the next two years.

Nearly six-out-of-ten say things will change either “some” or “a lot” with Republicans in control, but when it comes to the partisan divide 55% of Americans expect nothing to change. Almost half of all Americans think Republicans will see their programs passed into law, while 40% disagree.

Following the bevy of Republican wins that guaranteed Sen. Mitch McConnell will likely be the Senate’s next Majority Leader, the Kentucky Republican joined House Speaker John Boehner in touting the myriad legislation they’ll push through Congress. “Now we can get Congress going,” boasts their joint op-ed, published in the Wall Street Journal.

However, Americans are less hopeful that the switch in party control will lead to Washington suddenly functioning. When it comes to legislation Republican leadership is eager to take the lead on, support among Americans is falling. About 51% disapprove of the Affordable Care Act, but detractors are split on how best to handle the President’s signature health law. A whopping 83% of Republicans support building the Keystone XL pipeline, but over the past year support among Democrats has fallen by 11 points. What’s more, Americans are worried Republicans will use their new-found footing in Washington to increase investigations into the White House and Democrats — following a similar pattern of concern expressed when the balance of power shifted. In 2006, according to Pew, Americans had a similar fear when Democrats took control during the final George W. Bush years.

But Americans don’t think Obama would do a better job fixing the nation’s problems than Congress. In 2010, at least 49% of Americans wanted Obama to take the lead on addressing major issues. In 2014, however, nearly equal percentages of Americans would like to see Congress (41%) and Obama (40%) at the helm.

Americans also doubt the President can accomplish much during his last two years in office; the bulk, 59%, say he’ll get little to nothing done — two percentage points less than those asked the same question at the same point in Bush’s term.

Pew surveyed 1,353 adults for this latest report, which was conducted between Nov. 6 and Nov. 9. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 points.

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