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Obama confers with Senate Majority Leader Reid (left) and Republican Leader McConnell. GOP could gain the Senate in November.

Construction-industry groups and labor unions are pouring tens of millions of dollars into favored congressional candidates' election campaigns and plan to match or slightly exceed their contributions in 2010, the last midterm election cycle.

Officials say one reason for the heavy spending is that party control of the Senate is at stake (see story). They also want to elect candidates who can end the partisan battles that have created gridlock on Capitol Hill for much of the past two years.

Construction-industry associations and unions often differ on which candidates to back, but they agree on contributing to those who support funding infrastructure, including transportation, water projects and the Keystone XL pipeline.

Political spending across all industries and groups probably will total close to $4 billion this cycle, a record for midterm elections, says the Center for Responsive Politics. According to Federal Election Commission data, as of Sept. 24, construction-industry groups and firms had contributed more than $48 million this cycle, compared with $71.2 million in 2010. Construction unions had spent close to $20.7 million, already nearly hitting their $20.9 million total in 2010.

Steve Hall, American Council of Engineering Companies vice president of government affairs, says ACEC's political action committee has grown significantly since he joined the staff in 2001. In the current cycle, ACEC plans to give more than $1.5 million to a mix of Democrats and Republicans, compared with about $1 million in 2010. "We're a business organization that supports infrastructure, so that gives us plenty of opportunities to support both sides," he says. ACEC has given to lawmakers such as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) and Rep. Nick Rahall (W.Va.), the committee's top Democrat.

ACEC also decided to get involved in primaries this year, supporting "reasonable lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who were facing major primary challenges," Hall says. They included Shuster, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).

The Associated General Contractors of America also made a "conscious effort at the beginning of this process that we were going to get involved in primaries where we felt like we could make a difference," says Jeff Shoaf, senior executive director of government affairs. Shoaf adds that AGC's congressional contributions are well above its 2010 and 2012 levels. In deciding whom to support, AGC looks at voting records on issues such as infrastructure, taxes, labor and the environment. AGC's contributions lean heavily toward the GOP. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, as of Sept. 24, 94.3% of AGC's contributions went to Republicans and 5.6% to Democrats.

Bechtel Group, another major contributor to political candidates, splits its dollars about evenly between Democrats and Republicans, says Jay Farrar, director of Bechtel's Washington, D.C., office. "In many cases, we want to talk to both sides of the aisle." By the end of the year, Bechtel will have contributed 53% to 54% to Republicans and 46% to 47% to Democrats. "The biggest thing we are looking for is people who are engaged and involved in the types of issues that are important to Bechtel," Farrar says. Those issues include trade policy, infrastructure and energy-policy legislation. He says Bechtel also is focused keenly on Export-Import Bank reauthorization, needed by June 30.

As of late September, the Associated Builders and Contractors had contributed 100% of its campaign dollars to GOP candidates. Chris Singerling, ABC senior director of political affairs, says, "We support pro-business candidates, and we've been supporting candidates who support our industry and what ABC represents philosophically." ABC sends a questionnaire to new candidates and looks at incumbents' voting records to determine whom to support. ABC's top issues are eliminating or reducing Davis-Bacon Act use on federal projects, preventing union-only project labor agreements and overturning the Affordable Care Act. ABC plans to give about $1.6 million to federal candidates by the end of 2014, up modestly from 2010, Singerling says.

Some business-oriented construction groups that have been more bipartisan in their contributions over the years are finding they have fewer moderate Democrats to support.

Pam Whitted, National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association senior vice president for government and regulatory affairs, says NSSGA aims to be as bi- partisan as it can but achieving that goal can be difficult.

Whitted says that, as of Oct. 22, NSSGA had given about $743,500 for the 2014 cycle; about 75% of its federal campaign dollars have gone to Republicans, up from 61% in the full 2010 cycle. "As much as we try to give evenly to Republicans and Democrats, it's hard because a lot of the moderate Democrats were defeated in the last election," she says.

Marco Giamberardino, National Electrical Contractors Association executive director for government affairs, says, "We expect to do about $1.4 million" in the 2014 cycle, compared with $1.6 million in 2010. One reason for the decrease is that, in 2010, NECA had too much unspent 2008-cycle money that was carried over into the 2010 cycle, he notes.

Giamberardino, who joined NECA after the 2010 cycle, says that, in the 2012 and the present cycles, the association made sure to spend down as much of its current funds as possible "because we want our members' contributions to count for the current election cycle." Another NECA goal for 2014 has been "to narrow the number of races we are focusing on but also increase contributions to the candidates that we support," he says. In some key Senate contests, NECA will contribute the maximum $10,000 to Democratic incumbents Mark Begich (Alaska), Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.). On the Republican side in Senate races, NECA has contributed about $6,000 to Roberts and recently gave $2,500 to David Perdue, the GOP candidate in Georgia.

Labor unions say they expect to contribute more in this cycle than in each of the past two. For the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, "it's all about jobs," says Tom Flynn, political director. Key issues for the union include infrastructure investment and prevailing wages. "Trade is a big priority of the UBC," he notes, adding that pacts such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership would hurt American jobs.

Infrastructure funding and Davis- Bacon also are critical for the International Union of Operating Engineers, says Jeffrey Soth, political director. "We're looking for bipartisan, common-sense infrastructure investment, and we think those investments ought to be made with prevailing wages being paid," he says.

Most of IUOE's campaign dollars go to Democrats, but the union contributes to some GOP candidates."There are a lot of Davis-Bacon prevailing-wage-supporting Republicans, and we consider them our allies," Soth says.

One IUOE focus is supporting some Democrats who face tough Senate and House races and back the Keystone pipeline and other infrastructure projects. They include Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Begich, plus Rahall in the House.

Source for Chart Data: Center for Responsive Politics. Numbers are based on contributions from PACs and individuals giving $200 or more. All donations took place during the 2013-14 election cycle and were released by the Federal Election Commission on Sept. 24, 2014.

Construction Firms and Associations: Top Contributors To Congressional Candidates, Parties and Outside Groups

1 National Association of Home Builders $1,346,550 26.2% 73.8%
2 Associated Builders & Contractors $1,245,650 0.0% 96.0%
3 Perry Homes $1,151,700 0.2% 4.3%
4 Jon Stryker Architecture $1,095,400 4.1% 0.0%
5 American Council of Engineering Companies $1,032,400 38.2% 61.8%
6 National Electrical Contractors Association $854,750 39.1% 60.3%
7 Rooney Holdings $736,700 0.0% 38.9%
8 AECOM Technology Corp. $696,894 51.4% 9.0%
9 National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association $683,250 25.1% 74.9%
10 Associated General Contractors $652,009 5.6% 94.3%


Building Trade Unions: Top Contributors To Congressional Candidates, Parties and Outside Groups

1 Carpenters and Joiners Union $7,172,404 18.7% 5.9%
2 Plumbers and Pipefitters Union $3,386,136 47.7% 3.2%
3 Laborers Union $2,747,904 57.7% 6.9%
4 Operating Engineers Union $2,525,124 77.4% 19.1%
5 Ironworkers Union $1,426,800 86.8% 1.7%
6 Sheet-Metal Workers Union $1,355,225 88.5% 5.1%
7 Painters and Allied Trades Union $1,236,510 84.8% 15.2%
8 Bricklayers Union $334,500 91.0% 0.0%
9 Asbestos Workers Union $196,825 92.3% 7.7%
10 AFL-CIO $188,241 78.2% 21.8%