Tom Kacich: Shimkus' coffers, influence growing steadily
There may have been a time when John Shimkus, the U.S. Army veteran, former high school teacher and Madison County treasurer, had modest goals for his time in Congress.
Shimkus, in fact, went to Washington saying he would serve no more than six terms. That was nine terms ago.
But now the Republican congressman from Collinsville who tweets Bible verses almost every morning and loves to talk about making government smaller, has become an influential Washington insider.
He's chairman of a major House subcommittee that is responsible for legislation and the oversight of toxic substances, drinking water, fracking and the regulation of solid, hazardous and nuclear wastes. As such he is the recipient of hundreds of thousands of dollars every year from political action committees representing electric utilities, oil companies, chemical companies, manufacturers, labor unions, agribusinesses and more.
In the April through June period, Shimkus raised $354,575. About a tenth of that sum — $34,375 — came from individuals, and most of those itemized donations were from outside his district.
The rest of Shimkus' haul during the three months — $320,200 — came from big PACs like Exxon Mobil, Boeing, John Deere, Honeywell, Altria, Halliburton and Edison International, the parent company of Southern California Edison. There were dozens more contributors of between $5,000 and $1,000 to Shimkus' campaign fund.
He's a reliable vote against regulation and most environmental measures, like the recent House floor vote that gave states rather than the federal government the authority to regulate toxic coal ash left from coal-burning power plants. Shimkus called the legislation "pro-jobs, pro-environment, anti-bureaucracy."
Now he's involved in fashioning an agreement on renewable fuel standards, a discussion that pits two industry groups — and two constituencies of his in southern and eastern Illinois — against each other. On one side he has ADM and the National Corn Growers Association (each of which gave him $1,000 contributions in April) against Marathon Oil, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Phillips 66, Tesoro Petroleum, and the American Petroleum Institute (each of which gave him $1,000 or more in the last quarter).
It's a far cry from Shimkus' first successful race for Congress in 1996, when he raised $569,566, and more than half that amount — nearly $300,000 — came from individuals.
Since then he's morphed into the Washington PACman.
And it's not just about the money coming in.
Shimkus spends it, too, on fundraising consultants, tickets for concerts and sporting events, thousands of dollars on catering for fundraisers in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, and transfers out to the National Republican Congressional Committee, where it can be spent to help elect other Republicans.
Of Illinois' 18 congressmen, Shimkus has the second-biggest campaign account (just over $1 million on hand on June 30). He trails only Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, who was building a treasury in advance of a possible run for governor (which he isn't doing).
Shimkus is in the political sweet spot to use his campaign fund as an influential goodies account: the money coming in from PACs and going out to other Republicans and to raise even more money.
He doesn't need the cash himself. Last year he was opposed by a conservative Democrat who raised about $10,000 and barely campaigned. And his district — which now includes parts of Champaign and Ford counties and all of Vermilion, Douglas, Coles and Edgar counties — is rated the most Republican in Illinois: Mitt Romney got about 64 percent of the presidential vote there last year. Unless he makes a major misstep or decides to retire (he's only 55), Shimkus is a lock to finish the decade in Congress and advance farther up the congressional leadership chain.
His conversion into a Washington insider is a good example of the flaws of partisan redistricting, even when it's done by the opposite party. Democrats drew Illinois' congressional districts and loaded as many Republican votes into two districts — Shimkus' 15th and Schock's 18th — as they could. That made for more competitive races overall, but meant that the two downstate Republicans essentially go unchallenged for 10 years while soaking up PAC money and redistributing it.
It's no wonder Shimkus' term limits pledge was dismissed long ago.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.