New congressman shunned by donors, now calling shots

WASHINGTON - Forgive Paul Broun if he's grinning as lobbyists and business leaders stop by his new Capitol Hill office in the coming weeks to welcome him to Washington.

It's the same crowd that essentially ignored the newly elected congressman during his campaign this summer while lavishing donations on his heavily favored opponent, former Republican state Sen. Jim Whitehead. When Broun upended conventional wisdom and beat Whitehead by a few hundred votes last month, no one was more surprised than they were.

The proof is in their campaign contributions.

Broun, a Republican doctor from Athens, didn't get a dime from industry-backed political action committees, not even from the trade groups representing his medical profession.

Whitehead, meanwhile, raked in more than $175,000 from PACs, including from Georgia companies like UPS Inc. and the Coca-Cola Co. and national groups such as the American Bankers Association, the American Association of Orthodontists and the U.S. Telecom Association.

'What we know about PACs is they like to bet on winners. It tells us that, like everybody else, they thought that Whitehead had it sewn up,' said Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political scientist.

Many of the groups did not respond to phone calls this week about their giving. Those who did said they still hope to have a good relationship with Broun.

'We supported a candidate and that candidate happened to lose, but we're still a viable business and employer in the community, and our relationships are not solely based on PAC dollars,' said Malcolm Berkley, a spokesman for UPS, whose PAC gave Whitehead $5,000. 'We establish relationships with members of Congress above and beyond PAC dollars.'

Berkley said he didn't know whether the company would donate to Broun in the future.

Jonathan Snowling, a spokesman for the bankers association, which gave Whitehead $2,000, said the donation shows only that the group saw Whitehead as supportive of its goals and doesn't necessarily reflect its opinion of Broun.

'We help candidates that are supportive of the banking industry,' he said.

For his part, Broun said he won't hold any grudges. And with a likely challenge looming next year - possibly from a more mainstream Republican - he might need the groups' support soon.

'I'm in a little different position now than I was before, so hopefully people will take me a little more seriously,' he said. 'My vote can't be bought by anybody, but I'll be glad to have anybody come by.'

Bullock and Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University, said incumbents are usually considered the safest bets in elections and therefore get the bulk of PAC contributions, which often get the groups access to meetings with lawmakers to discuss their agendas. Just how much the groups give Broun in the coming months will say a lot about how long they think he will be in office, the professors said.

'One of the things that groups who bet on the wrong horse will do is try to quickly get on the right side, so you may be seeing some of that,' Bullock said.